Jane Austen’s “Imaginary” Portrait ~ Coming to BBC Two

UPDATE!: you can follow the latest developments on this Austen Portrait at Paula Byrne’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/#!/austenportrait


News Alert!

In March of this year, I wrote a post on the auction of an “imaginary” portrait of Jane Austen, one of the portraits that Deirdre Le Faye wrote about in her article for the Jane Austen Society Report 2007, pp. 42-52.  This portrait sold at the Bonham’s March 29, 2011 auction and the image copyright became the right of the new owner. 

Dr. Paula Byrne, author of a number of Austen scholarly articles, her book Jane Austen and the Theatre [fabulous read!], and her forthcoming biography of Austen [The Real Jane Austen], is  going to broadcast “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?”  on BBC Two on December 26 about the validity of this portrait, and if this illusive image might indeed be Jane Austen.  Here is the press release on the upcoming broadcast …  and an illustration of the portrait, with permission of Dr. Byrne.

[Image from JAS Report for 2007.  The copyright of the portrait now belongs to Paula Byrne.]

From the BBC:

BBC Two follows academic’s investigation into possible
unknown portrait of Jane Austen

This month, BBC Two follows a British academic as she unveils a portrait that may be one of the only remaining images of Jane Austen. In a one-off special, Martha Kearney follows the search to find out whether an unusual drawn portrait really does capture the face of the well-loved author.

Will the picture stand up to forensic analysis and scrutiny by art historians and Austen experts? And if it does, how might it change our perception of one of Britain’s most revered writers? Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (9pm, Mon 26 Dec, BBC Two) follows the investigation behind one of the literary world’s most exciting art works.

Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two:  “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? will sit at the heart of our Christmas schedule and will be a fascinating chance for the BBC Two audience to delve deeper into the life of one of Britain’s best-loved authors.”

Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated writers of all time but with only a rough sketch by her sister we have just an inkling of what she may have looked like. Austen academic and biographer Dr Paula Byrne thinks that this may be about to change. She believes that she’s discovered a portrait of the author that has been lost for nearly two centuries and may offer fascinating new insight into how Jane once lived and portrayed herself to the world.

Paula Byrne: “If this really is an authentic portrait of Jane Austen, it has the potential to change our image of her for ever — instead of the prim spinster of Cassandra’s unfinished sketch, here is a professional writer at the height of her powers.”

Martha follows Paula’s search to gather as much evidence as possible in her quest to prove that she really may hold one of the rarest literary portraits of all time. From eighteenth century costume experts to the editor of Jane Austen’s letters, Paula must interrogate as many experts as possible to build a case for why this really might be Jane. After months of research, she presents the portrait to three of the world’s most prominent Austen experts. Will she be able to convince them that it really is as authentic as it seems?

Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? airs at 9pm, Monday 26th December, BBC Two and is one of two films commissioned by the BBC Arts department to celebrate the life and work of one of our greatest authors this Christmas.

The programme was commissioned by Janice Hadlow (Controller, BBC Two) and Mark Bell (Commissioning Editor for Arts) and will be executive produced by Liz Hartford for Seneca Productions and Adam Barker for BBC Knowledge. The director is Neil Crombie.

from: Victoria Asare-Archer, Publicist, BBC

You can read more about it at Dr. Byrne’s website here
But alas! we on this side of the pond, who must live without the BBC Two, will just have to wait …

Further Reading:

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, at Jane Austen in Vermont 

13 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s “Imaginary” Portrait ~ Coming to BBC Two

  1. Yes, wish we could see it here. My favorite portrait candidate is the fashionable and elegant little woman in Stanier-Clarke’s sketchbook, but this one is very plausible on the face of it (so to speak). These “new discoveries” always seem to be made by authors who coincidentally have new books just about to come out, in need of publicity. So I can’t help but be suspicious. “I am still a cat if I see a mouse.”


    • But her book isn’t coming out until 2013 – so way in-advance publicity for sure! – I believe that Byrne’s husband [the Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate] purchased this for her and it was a natural step to researching it to find its history and provenance. Wish we could see the film when it will be first aired..

      Thanks Diana for stopping by and for the birthday wishes – back to you as well!


    • Me again – re: the Clarke portrait – another possible Austen in life drawing – but also much conjecture. I have a “fashionista” friend who thinks it cannot be Austen because the clothing is all wrong for the time she was visitng Clarke – an interesting study in itself… will we ever really know any of this? and in the end there is something more appealing about her illusiveness, don’t you think? Just like the biographers like to make her out to be various kinds of people, making likenesses of who we think she is so very interesting! – whatever would we all talk about if it was all so definite?!


    • Oh Tom, if you do see it please write up something for me to put on the blog! That would be great – hope you do get to see it – your own “imaginary” portrait of Austen sits very near this image in Le Faye’s essay in the JAS!
      Thanks for being there yesterday!


  2. Fascinating! The features of the lady in the portrait could indeed be Jane Austen’s, but I doubt that she was “important” enough to have a formal portrait made and she herself kept her being an author a secret. Did you find out where this portrait was found? What’s your guess – is it really her?


    • Hard to know Anna – I’ve known about this portrait for several years, so it is really not an “unseen” portrait – only speculation that it a true drawing of Jane Austen and not just someone’s rendering of what they would like her to look like. If you can get a copy of Deirdre Le Faye’s essay that I mention that is in the JAS Report for 2007, it has this image as well as a number of others – this one was in private hands until it came up for auction this past March – it will be interesting to see what the forensic studies show about the age of the paper – this will be most important link to a real Austen image – if it is after her death then we at least know it was not a life drawing – regardless it will likely remain conjecture, just as the Rice portrait remains so, despite efforts to prove it is Austen as a young girl…
      Thanks for stopping by Anna – what do you think??!


      • Well, that certainly is the Austen family nose. It survived intact in Joan Austen-Leigh, her nose was the exact same as that in Mrs. Austen’s silhouette (we were good friends, and I know!). And that’s exactly the same as this nose. Such a honker in England almost has to be an Austen!


      • Yes, Diana, “the nose knows” as they say! and having English-born parents with quite an English nose myself, I agree that the Austen nose is quite telling – one of the reasons I think the Clarke portrait looks so much like we expect Austen to look! – This portrait just has a feeling about it of a fan creating a space for a much-loved author – the setting, the position of the writer, all of it – Le Faye conjectures that it was done early on maybe as early as 1818, and by someone who had their own very strong image of what Austen may have looked like – how will we ever know really, unless there is solid proof in a diary or letter of who did it and when… I look forward with bated breath to this show – whenever we get to see it!


  3. Hi, it’s Paula Byrne–love your blog, it’s one of the best!! Please follow me on Twitter as I’m drip-feeding more information discovered on the TV documentary (some important bits got lost on the editing floor). All good wishes,
    p.s. am trying to get this documentary airing in USA and Canada


    • Thank you Paula, will follow you now on Twitter to get all the latest news! – very exciting and looking forward to the documentary – hope that you can manage that US and Canada airing..!

      Thank you for stopping by and your kind words on the blog – looking very much forward to your upcoming biography of Austen. I thoroughly enjoyed your book ‘Jane Austen and the Theatre’ – has made me look at all her work in a completely new and ‘dramatic’ way…



  4. Pingback: La nuova Jane Austen : Libri

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