Monday, January 9, 2012

Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?

Source, image not mine
Many of you might have heard of the new portrait that has been under debate lately regarding whether or not it is a portrait of Jane Austen. There has been great interest and speculation by many Janeites as to whether the "Jane" portrayed in the piece has the famous Austen nose (that can be seen in paintings of her brothers) or whether the composition is even historically accurate.

I first heard about this portrait from Miss Elizabeth Bennet at Elegance of Fashion. I must confess that I have not been of a mind to give it any credence as it portrays a very different image from the Jane Austen in my mind or even of the Jane Austen painted by her sister Cassandra.

But I was very interested when I found the BBC special Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? on YouTube.  This is an in-depth investigation of the newly discovered piece using modern scientific tests, expert opinions on fashion and method, as well as opinions from highly respected Jane Austen experts. Of great interest are the interviews with esteemed authors Deirdre LeFaye and Claire Tomlin. Also after all the investigations there is a conference at the end to determine whether or not the portrait is to be an accepted figure of Jane Austen. 

I encourage all Janeites to watch this interesting program which last about 59 minutes. The Unseen Portrait? aired Monday 26th December 2011 in the UK on BBC Two and was commissioned by the BBC Arts department.

My Thoughts: I found all of  the information given in the program quite interesting. There are many points in favor of the lady being Jane Austen but still quite a bit of room for doubt. I was most interested in the fashion expert's advice on the historical accuracy of the dress portrayed in the portrait and the description of Jane Austen's height and figure. I was also quite struck by how they were able to narrow down the time period of when it was drawn to within a few years time and were able to fairly accurately pin point which building is sketched in the background. In my mind the idea that it might have been drawn by a family friend, who might not have known Jane that well, is most probable. I do have a couple other theories which weren't really mentioned in the program: Perhaps the portrait was drawn without Jane's knowledge, and that might explain why she doesn't mention having her portrait drawn in any of her letters, or maybe the "Jane Austin" in the portrait is another lady who was later mistaken for The Authoress, hence why the frame is labeled with Jane Austen's name, year of birth and year of death. I would also have liked it if they had tried to trace the ownership of the portrait a little bit more.
Although I appreciate Deirdre LeFaye's fervent denials that the portrait could at all be Miss Austen and Dr Paula Byrne's exuberance that the portrait is the unseen Jane, my own conclusions are more uncertain. There are several facts (era, dress fashion, drawing methods, "Austen-like" facial features) that could back up the case for the lady in the portrait being Jane Austen , but there is also a lack of conclusive evidence (letters, history of previous owners, artist identity) that the face is Jane Austen's. So I'm an official "maybe" because it could be her, but I'm not quite ready to accept this bolder looking Jane Austen. 

Two interesting articles:
AustenBlog - 'Fan art might not be fan art, but it’s hard to tell'
Mail Online - 'Is this what Jane Austen really looked like?'

What do you think of this discovery of "the unseen Jane Austen" portrait?
Do you think this face really is Jane Austen?


Melody said...

Did you notice that the man's letter wasn't folded and looked quite new? Would a letter received in the 80s really look like that?

Do you know if Deirdre LeFaye's portrait is online anywhere? I like it too. =)

I still think the nose looks a lot different than the rest. The one in the picture has more of a bump on the top.

Did you notice that Jane's writing desk isn't in the picture?

NOW the paper has creases??

This lady's eyes don't look particularly striking, and everybody said Jane's was.

Once some Countess wrote to Jane praising her books, and spelled it Jane Austin. Not that that has to do with anything. ;-)

Oh dear, Deirdre LeFaye makes me laugh. I'll always remember this when I see her name. She's so argumentative and sure of herself and her opinions! You can tell she came in with her already decided opinion and wanted to leave with the same one, while convincing everyone else to think like her. I have to try not to be that way myself...:-/
'Until you can produce evidence'...she really reminds me of a character in a story.

The portrait makes Cassandra's look...pretty.

Thank you for posting this Miss Laurie! It's quite interesting. Also just to see these Jane Austen experts and literary scholars and art scholars; and the fashion expert was especially interesting! It almost makes me want to be one of those scholars who are called upon for interviews and asked to write books... if I was going to be a scholar or historian about anything, I'd definitely choose Miss Austen and her world! =)

Old-Fashioned Father said...

No, no, it won't do. Firstly, my Jane Austen is not so tall and gangly as this woman. Secondly, and more important, this is poorly drawn. Notice how bad the perspective is, how the hands are just wrong. Faces are harder to capture than either of these, so even if the "artist" was trying to capture Jane Austen, they've done such a poor job that I doubt it much resembles. If I had created this thing I would not have signed it, either.

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