Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Costume Experts "Too Adamant"

The opponents of the Rice Portrait would have us all believe that the "experts" are unanimously against the Rice Portrait and that its supporters are a few deluded souls who are hoping  - against all the available evidence - that this is indeed a portrait of Jane Austen.

I hope I have disabused readers of this fallacy in the arguments I have made on this blog.

Today I thought I would share a letter written by Richard Walker, the Regency expert at the National Portrait Gallery to the then owner of the portrait, Henry Rice, in 1986.

Richard Walker is not unsympathetic to the claim that this picture is indeed of Jane Austen  - and he is more than a little sceptical of over-confidence on the part of the costume experts.

He says: "I do encourage you to press on in spite of cold water from the costume people. I find they are very often too adamant in their pronouncements."

Letter from Richard Walker to Henry Rice

Thursday, 5 May 2016

A Literary Portrait Re-Examined. Jane Austen and Mary Anne Campion. Part One

In 1996 Deirdre Le Faye published an article, A Literary Portrait Re-Examined. Jane Austen and Mary Anne Campion, in the journal The Book Collector. (I have been unable to locate a copy of the article online; if you would like to read it in full then please email me.) In this article she advanced her own theory  - that the portrait is of a distant relative of Austen's called Mary Anne Campion, an opinion she has maintained ever since.

Le Faye opens with an outline of the early search for a portrait of Jane Austen, the facts of which are now well rehearsed. She does not take issue with the provenance of the portrait as belonging to the Motley Austen family of Kippington - descendants of Jane Austen's great-uncle Francis Austen and passing into the ownership of Colonel Thomas Austen who unexpectedly inherited his father's considerable wealth after the death of his elder brother. At some point between 1817 and 1831 Colonel Austen gave the portrait to Eliza Hall. It descended to her step-son Dr. Thomas Harding-Newman on the death of his father in 1856 before returning to the Austen family in 1883 when it was passed to the grandson of Jane Austen's brother Edward Austen Knight. The recipient, Reverend John Morland Rice, was an old friend of Dr Harding Newman, and it has remained within the Rice family ever since.

Jane Austen's Great-Uncle Francis Austen
Commissioned by the Duke of Dorset
Painted by Ozias Humphry
We now come to the point where, having received the portrait, John Morland Rice began to make enquiries about it. According to Le Faye, Morland Rice "evidently wished to date it more precisely" and he first asked Henry Morland Austen, a nephew of Colonel Thomas Austen, about the portrait but "he had no additional knowledge."

Rev. John Morland Rice
Deirdre Le Faye has a tendency to combine documented facts with her own theories and conjectures and it is not always obvious which is which. In fact the only evidence we have of Morland Rice's research into his portrait is in the form of two extant letters - the first from Fanny Caroline Lefroy to Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh in 1883 and the second, a year later, from Henry Morland Austen to John Morland Rice.

The first letter was written on 23 October 1883. Fanny Caroline Lefroy was the daughter of Jane Austen's niece, Anna Lefroy. By 1883 Anna Lefroy and her siblings James Edward Austen-Leigh and Caroline Austen - the three children of James Austen - were all dead. In 1883 Fanny Lefroy was living in Reading and she had apparently received a letter from her cousin Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh about the portrait. Her reply is held in the Austen family archive in Hampshire Record Office.

This letter was unreported before Deirdre Le Faye published it in her article. It was an important find and a key document in the history of this portrait, which makes what follows quite extraordinary.

Le Faye transcribed a portion of the letter for her article and published it as follows:

I never heard before of the portrait of Jane Austen. I feel sure it never was either at Steventon or Chawton. My Mother & Aunt Caroline would certainly have recollected it had they ever seen it. In 1787 the year it was painted she was a school girl in the Abbey School here. Possibly she might have been to Godmersham to stay with her Cousins & companionise her brother Edward & possibly Mr and Mrs Knight had it done. I suppose Mr Morland Rice can throw some light on the matter, or is it a picture he has picked up of Jane Austen painted by Romney but not the Jane. Mr Morland Austen picked one up & fondly believed it was her, but it was painted at Malta where she never was. I will write & ask Cassie if she knows anything of it. I am sure her father & mother never had any money to spend on portraits of their children. If it is genuine would not Mr M.R. generously allow it to be photographed? I should greatly like to see it.' (Austen-Leigh archive).

Le Faye then comments that "It will be noted that Mr Morland Rice was now stating a firm date of 1787 (which would make Jane 12 rather than 15) and Romney as the artist rather than Zoffany, instead of accepting Dr Harding Newman's traditions; and it is also evident that Miss Lefroy was highly sceptical of the picture's authenticity."

Firstly, it is not clear to me why Deirdre Le Faye writes that Mr Morland Rice was "now stating a firm date of 1787". It is Fanny Lefroy who is stating the date not Morland Rice. If Le Faye is suggesting that the date came from Morland Rice, she does not produce any evidence.

Secondly, and more importantly, Fanny Lefroy was not stating a firm date of 1787. For, despite all her experience in transcribing letters and documenting the history of the Austen family, Deirdre Le Faye has given an incorrect date. Fanny Lefroy did not write 1787. She wrote 1789.

You can see this for yourself in an image of Fanny's original letter here:

How did Deirdre Le Faye manage to make such a mistake over something as important as the dating of the picture? I'm now forced to wonder whether there are other mistakes in her research. How much of it has been checked?

So, in October 1883, Fanny Caroline Lefroy wrote to Mary Austen-Leigh stating that the picture was painted in 1789 and that at that time Jane Austen was at the Abbey School in Reading.

The date is significant for another reason. Morland Rice had been advised that the portrait was painted by Johan Zoffany. But by the time Deirdre Le Faye was writing her article in 1996, Zoffany had been discounted and the artist most frequently connected to the portrait was Ozias Humphry. If the portrait really had been painted in 1787 as Le Faye transcribed, then it could not have been painted by either Zoffany or Humphry for in that year both men were in India trying to paint their way to fortune  -  Zoffany with considerably more success than Humphry. Ozias Humphry returned to England in the summer of 1788 and by the autumn of that year he was visiting his brother William Humphry, vicar at Seal near Sevenoaks, where he spent a great deal of his time.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Match
Commissioned by William Hastings
Painted by Zoffany
Detail from the same painting showing
Ozias Humphry standing
with his hand on Zoffany's shoulder.
The painting records a visit to Lucknow in 1784

Le Faye claims that "Miss Lefroy was highly sceptical of the picture's authenticity." But there is no evidence that she was sceptical in her letter, nor does she seem to be ruling it out. "If it is genuine, would not Mr M.R generously allow it to be photographed?" she says. She does not appear to have any previous knowledge of the portrait, and she was correct of course that it was never at Steventon or Chawton. She also notes that Jane's parents would not have gone to such expense. Her suggestion is that it was painted in Kent which was, of course, where the money in the family resided.

"People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. - Kent is the only place for happiness."
Jane Austen, 1798.

Fanny suggests Edward Austen's adoptive parents the Knights might have commissioned the portrait. It was a reasonable supposition and might also explain her reference to George Romney, a great friend of Ozias Humphry, who painted portraits of Thomas and Catherine Knight in the early 1780s.

Catherine Knight by George Romney
Thomas Knight by George Romney

Deirdre Le Faye writes that the next step was that "Mr Morland Austen visited her [Fanny Lefroy] on 8th September 1884  - presumably equipped with a photograph - and prompted her to suggest a date of 1788-89, and that the picture might possibly have been painted in Bath if Jane had ever stayed there with her uncle and aunt Mr and Mrs Leigh-Perrot at that time."

Once more we are dealing with speculation on the part of Deirdre Le Faye. There is no evidence that Henry Morland Austen was equipped with a photograph. Nor is there any evidence that he "prompted" Fanny to suggest a date of 1788-89. We now know that Fanny Lefroy was consistently  quoting the same date as she had done the previous year. There is no reason to suppose she was prompted. Indeed, the previous year she had been very definite that the portrait was painted in 1789, a fact that was obscured by the mis-quoting of the date by Deirdre Le Faye.

Le Faye is making her assumptions based on the letter which Henry Morland Austen wrote to John Morland Rice on 09 September 1884. She does not transcribe this particular letter in her article. The relevant section reads:

My Dear Rice, 

I thank you very much for your interesting letter, which puts the matter in a very different light. I saw Miss Lefroy yesterday. She knows more than anybody about the family history. She knew before of the portrait in your possession. Except for one or two difficulties, she would have no doubts about its genuineness.

 1.Jane A was born Dec. 1775. The date on your picture is (she thinks) 1788 or 9, making her not 14.
 2.Her parents did not go to Bath till they left Steventon in 1801.
 3.Jane and Cassandra were at school at Reading at that period.

But on the other hand her Uncle and Aunt Leigh Perrot often visited Bath and she may have been with them, also "Northanger Abbey" was written long before 1801 and the local colouring is such as to show that she must have been there before she wrote it.

It is easy to see why Deirdre Le Faye avoided quoting the letter; it undermines her argument that Fanny Lefroy was sceptical about the portrait. Indeed, according to Henry Morland Austen, "except for one or two difficulties she would have no doubts about its genuineness".

It is frustrating that we don't know what it was that "put the matter in a very different light". However as we don't have Morland Rice's letter, we have to try and make sense of the reply without it.

Morland Rice has been given a portrait which he has been told is of Jane Austen and painted by Zoffany. The portrait had been passed on to him by John Rouse Bloxam who was historian of Magdalen College and an art expert and antiquarian. He was also the nephew of the artist Sir Thomas Lawrence, President of the Royal Academy for ten years. Bloxam would almost certainly have known that Zoffany had been in India from 1783 until 1790. After all, Zoffany was very successful and painted some of his most famous works whilst he was there. Morland Rice would therefore also know that if the painting was by Zoffany then it cannot have been painted prior to 1790.

Morland Rice's attempts to clarify the Zoffany attribution might explain Fanny's "one or two difficulties" with the painting.

1. Perhaps Morland Rice wants to know if the portrait could have been painted in 1790/91. But Fanny Lefroy says that the date on the portrait was 1788 or 1789 making Jane not fourteen.

2. Then there is the question of where it could have been painted. In Bath perhaps? Zoffany was known to have visited there after he returned from India in 1790. But Fanny Lefroy says her parents did not go to Bath until 1801.

3. Perhaps the third question was whether she could have been in Bath earlier? No, says Fanny, Jane and Cassandra were in school at Reading during that time. But on the other hand, Jane must have visited Bath before they moved there in order to write the descriptions in "Northanger Abbey".

This letter makes sense if Morland Rice was trying to work out when and where Jane Austen may have had her portrait painted by Zoffany.

Deirdre Le Faye says "it does not seem that Fanny Caroline Lefroy made any attempt to find proof for these suggestions, between this conversation in September 1884 and her death in January 1885." The surviving letters we have are far too few to know one way or another whether Fanny Lefroy made any further enquiries of her own but as she was dead less than four months later, if she did not it would hardly be surprising.

John Morland Rice seems to have accepted that the portrait was by Zoffany despite the difficulties with the dating. In 1884 the portrait was used as a frontispiece for the first edition of the Letters of Jane Austen by Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen (Lord Brabourne) who was the son of Jane Austen's niece, Fanny Austen Knight. It was used again by William Austen-Leigh, the son of Jane's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh and the former's nephew Richard Austen-Leigh as a frontispiece for their Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record published in 1913. In the text they deal with the question of the dating of the portrait:

"Our Jane became fifteen on December 16, 1790, and Zoffany returned from India in that year. Jane is believed to have visited her uncle, Dr Cooper (who died in 1792) at Bath'. There is nothing in these dates to raise any difficulty, and, on the whole, we have good reason to hope that we possess in this picture an authentic portrait of the author."

Le Faye does not mention that the portrait was also used by Fanny Lefroy's correspondent, Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, the sister of William Austen-Leigh, as the frontispiece for her own biography of Jane Austen, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen. The biography was published in 1920, although it had been completed in 1895. In the  book, Mary describes the portrait as being "of my great Aunt Jane Austen".

Frontispiece to Mary Augusta Austen Leigh's biography
Published 1920

In the same year, 1920, Lady Victoria Manners and George Charles Williamson, art editor for George Bell and Sons, published a biography of Johan Zoffany. (Two years previously Dr. Williamson had published what is still the only detailed biography of Ozias Humphry.) Manners and Williamson reproduced an image of the portrait from the photographic plate of the portrait taken by Emery Walker, the same image that had been used by Lord Brabourne and by Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh. Manners and Williamson wrote:

"A delightful picture is that of Jane Austen as a girl, which must have been painted in 1790 or thereabouts, and which gives a charming representation of a prim but amusing, cheerful maiden, just as we should have fancied Jane Austen to be."

Up until the third decade of the twentieth century, therefore, the portrait was generally accepted as being a portrait of Jane Austen by Zoffany, and dated to around 1790/91. It was only in the 1930s that, as Le Faye reports, "the question of the portrait's authenticity first became the subject of scholarly study".

R W Chapman
The "scholarly study" in question was the work of Dr Robert Chapman who was secretary to the Clarendon Press in Oxford and was working on his own edition of Jane Austen's Letters. According to Le Faye, Chapman discussed the portrait with the staff of the National Portrait Gallery - Mr C K Adams and Sir Henry Hake, the then Director - "and their informed opinion was that the fashion of the child's dress showed the picture to be of a date c.1805".
(C K Adams was Assistant Keeper at the National Portrait Gallery from 1919 until 1951 when he became Director on the death of Henry Hake.)

Le Faye does not, however, discuss the events of the 1930's prior to this  - including the fact that in 1932 Sir Henry Hake had tried to buy the portrait for the Gallery. The owner, Henry Harcourt Rice refused to sell; in fact the portrait was now entailed so Rice had little option, he could not have parted with it even if he wanted to. It is unlikely Henry Hake was aware of this and to add insult to injury as far as the NPG was concerned, John Hubback, the grandson of Jane's brother Francis Austen, then suggested a replica could be supplied. On 20 September 1932 Hubback wrote to the NPG:

"I am a grandson of Sir Francis Austen, Jane Austen’s brother and I have the consent of Mr Edward Rice, also a member of the family to allow a replica to be made of his picture of Jane Austen as a young girl executed by Zoffany about 1791. The enclosed note as to the authenticity of the portrait is from the Austen Leigh’s “Jane Austen her life and letters”, and is communicated to you by the express desire of Mr Rice and of myself also.”

Hubback suggested that his own daughter could paint the replica. Henry Hake declined. With regard to the refusal to sell, Henry Hake recorded that he was "entirely in sympathy with their attitude so long as it was realised that in the event of the picture having to come to this Institution we would like to have an opportunity of acquiring it." He also recorded that "the Austen family are tenacious of their inheritances".

Sir Henry Hake, Director of the
National Portrait Gallery 1927-1951
The portrait obviously remained under discussion as the following month Robert Chapman wrote to Henry Hake saying of the portrait that "I never feel happy about this picture, and I know that R.A Austen-Leigh is very sceptical."

In 1941 C K Adams produced a report in which he said that the fashion of the girl's dress in the portrait "The style of dress with narrow ribbon round high waist, and slightly puffed half sleeves is of the period c1805. In a search I have not found a similar dress on a dated portrait before 1803 when Jane was 28."

ON June 27, 1941, Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh wrote to Chapman about it - the latter has evidently informed him of Adams' assessment. "I presume Adam is a first-class authority on period-dress & that he can be trusted therefore," he wrote.

Where did Adams look? It is worth bearing in mind this was 1941, at the height of the Second World War. Many of the NPG's own paintings had been evacuated. (You can read about this on the NPG website HERE.) Communications were limited. Rather different to the situation now where thousands of images of portraits can be viewed with the click of a few buttons on a keyboard.

According to Le Faye, "Succeeding members of the NPG staff down the ensuing decades have never wavered from this opinion and it was this weight of authority which led Dr Chapman to say in his Facts and Problems published in 1948 that the picture could not be of Jane Austen."

At the very same time, in May 1948, the National Portrait Gallery purchased the portrait of Jane Austen believed to have been drawn by Cassandra and issued a press release stating that they now owned the only authenticated portrait of the novelist. The Cassandra sketch had been tracked down three years earlier by Elizabeth Jenkins, a colleague of Robert Chapman's at the Clarendon Press and a secretary of a Jane Austen society and it had now come up for sale. The timing of these two events cannot have been a coincidence. Robert Chapman and the NPG were obviously working together and it is not altogether clear who was influencing whom.

Le Faye then quotes a response to the Jane Austen Society from Sir Oliver Millar, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures who in 1983 wrote:

"I would (a) be very surprised if the work was by Zoffany and (b) even more surprised if it had been painted before 1800. Indeed, on grounds of style and costume it cannot be earlier. Moreover, if it was by Zoffany, who returned to England when Jane became fifteen, another improbability arises. The sitter must be under that age. On all counts, therefore, the portrait should be dismissed from the iconography of Jane Austen. I have discussed it with the authority of the National Portrait Gallery [R.J.G. Walker] who is working on many Regency Problems and he is firmly of the same opinion."

Le Faye does not mention that Millar had been a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery since 1972. She also does not mention that R J G Walker's in his Regency Portraits, published in 1985, attributes the portrait to Ozias Humphry.

In a letter dated 12 March 1985 to Madeleine Marsh who had been researching the portrait, Richard Walker wrote "I am sure you are on the right track with your attribution to Ozias Humphry. It fits very well with his style of painting and your research shows that he would have been a likely artist to have been employed by the family".

National Portrait Gallery card holding an image of the portrait
with NPG date stamp 1987. Date is given as c.1790

Le Faye also does not divulge the contents of a letter written to her just two years before her article was published in The Book Collector. On 2 October 1993 Richard Walker wrote to Deirdre Le Faye about the portrait. Having noted that Le Faye had not mentioned it in her new edition of Jane Austen; A Family Record, Walker wrote,

"I imagine, like me, you do not wholeheartedly believe in it. But I have been asked to write something about it for an exhibition to take place in the Olympia Antique Fair in February, and wonder if you have had any second thoughts since we last met. I think the costume experts have been over-confident and the dress she wears could be of the 1790's - but I am still not convinced she is Jane" 

Why Walker remained unconvinced he does not say but apparently it was not on the grounds of costume. His doubts about the dating of the costume were not reported by Le Faye.

Le Faye then turns to the issue of the dating of the dress. She says that since 1948 the Jane Austen Society has on various dates approached such costume historians as Doris Langley Moore, Anne Buck, Madeleine Ginsburg and most recently Dr (now Professor Emeritus) Aileen Ribeiro of the Courtauld Institute, who have given their opinions. "Here again there is unanimity - the child's dress shows the picture cannot be earlier than 1800 and could even be as late as 1810, median date therefore 1805."

The previous year, on 25 June 1995, an article by Simon Tait about the painting appeared in The Observer newspaper titled Portrait Tests Experts' Pride and Prejudices. The article quoted Margaret Hammond, who had made a 20 year study of the picture, as saying that the Rice picture was of Jane Austen but that Jacob Simon of the National Portrait Gallery claimed that the dress invalidated the claim. It was his opinion which led to an export licence being granted for the picture. "The crux of the whole matter" Mrs Hammond was reported as saying, "is the costume, that it could not have been worn by a girl of that age before 1805. I just thought that was wrong, I've investigated it and I have a list as long as your arm of pictures painted by Reynolds, Gainsborough and others showing children in costumes of that sort, dating as far back as the date of Jane's birth in 1775."

(For examples of dresses including narrow ribbons, high waists and puffed half sleeves before 1800 please see my post HERE.)

The article went on to say that "she is now supported in this by Dr Aileen Ribeiro of the Courtauld Institute and by Richard Walker, a former NPG curator and Keeper of the Royal Collection until 1991."

The following day, Monday 26 June 1995, Jacob Simon faxed Aileen Ribeiro from the National Portrait Gallery:

"Since speaking I have seen the Observer article which claims you support an early dating of the Rice Portrait. I enclose the article and Richard Walker's.
Would you be prepared to write a short letter to the Observer on the dating of the portrait - the shorter it is the more likely they'll publish in full!"

On 2 July 1995 a letter from Aileen Ribeiro was published in The Observer. Ribeiro said that "When asked to comment a few years ago, I noted that this type of costume, as worn by young girls, could range in date from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth. Now I am sure a date in the first decade of the nineteenth century is right." Her letter concluded "the identity of the sitter cannot be known; except to say it is not Jane Austen."

Art critic, curator and long time supporter of the Rice Portrait, Angus Stewart, has informed me that in 1993 he visited Aileen Ribeiro at the Courtauld Institute and she confirmed that the costume could be dated late eighteenth century. It was Angus Stewart who, that same year, had asked Richard Walker to write something for the Olympia Art and Antiques Fair to be held in February 1994.

What was it that persuaded Aileen Ribeiro to change her mind and and become so definite that the portrait could not possibly date to the late eighteenth century? And why was the National Portrait Gallery actively campaigning against the Rice Portrait and encouraging Dr Ribeiro to write to the newspaper? Aileen Ribeiro sent a copy of her letter to the National Portrait Gallery. On the accompanying postcard she said, "Let's hope the whole thing quietly goes away!"

Needless to say, it hasn't.

Deirdre Le Faye claimed that "The owner and those in favour of the authenticity of the portrait...prefer to brush aside the weight of scholarly opinion ranged against them." But scholarly opinion was clearly not as unanimous as Le Faye would have us believe. Richard Walker had written to her to say he was not convinced by the dating of the dress and Aileen Ribeiro had previously stated that it could have dated from the later eighteenth century although she later retracted this opinion. The V&A had, according to a report in the NPG archive, also stated the dress could date to 20 years from 1790 until they were informed it was Jane Austen and then they too retracted their opinion.

As far back as 1983 Deirdre Le Faye had written that she did not "for a moment" believe that the portrait was of Jane Austen the novelist. In her review of Le Faye's article in the TLS, Claudia Johnson remarks that Le Faye 'crosses the boundary into perverseness.' The tremendous amount of hubris on the part of many of the people involved in this story is astounding.

In 1917 an editorial in The Times, while commenting on another case involving an Ozias Humphry painting, remarked that "the lesson for experts...is the old lesson - not to be too 'cocksure' in their opinions, and still more, not to be too positive in stating them."

It is a lesson which apparently still has not been learned.

Thank you for reading. In the next post I will examine the second part of Deirdre Le Faye's article and evaluate her theory that the portrait is of Mary Anne Campion, the daughter of Jane Austen's cousin of the same name, and that the artist was a Revd Matthew William Peters.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Jane Austen, 18th Century Costume and the Rice Portrait. Are the experts out of date?

The Rice Portrait

"Your gown seems very pretty. I like these glossy spots"
 Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park
The arguments surrounding the dating of the dress of the girl in the Rice Portrait have been rumbling on for years and remain the main reason given by the National Portrait Gallery for refusing to accept it is a portrait of Jane Austen. As far back in 1941 C K Adams of the National Portrait Gallery said: "The style of dress with narrow ribbon round high waist, and slightly puffed half sleeves is of the period c1805. In a search I have not found a similar dress on a dated portrait before 1803 when Jane was 28."

Where C K Adams searched we do not know but it is worth remembering that this was at the height of the Second World War in an era pre-internet, pre-television and pre-mass communication.

More recently, in 1995, Professor Aileen Ribeiro of the Courtauld Institute said that the Rice Portrait "cannot be earlier than c1800 and therefore cannot be Austen as a young girl." She was not always so certain, as she acknowledged - "When asked to comment a few years ago, I noted that this type of costume, as worn by young girls, could range in date from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth. Now I am sure a date in the first decade of the nineteenth century is right."

These days searching for pictures is easy and a search on "Pinterest" shows pages of portraits of children in white muslin dresses.

I am not a fashion expert. But to my untrained eye, many of the dresses in portraits dated before 1800 share common features with the dress of the girl in the Rice Portrait including puffed sleeves, narrow ribbons and high waists.

I am therefore at a loss to understand how the dress in the Rice Portrait can be so categorically dated to after 1800.

Here are some examples which I have found searching online:

Detail from The Oddie Children
William Beechey

Portrait of an Unknown Girl
William Marshall Craig

From Portrait of the Willett Children
George Romney

Detail showing sleeves

Mary Sheppard
John Russell

Small girl presenting cherries
John Russell

Shepherd Girl  (Little Bo Peep)
George Romney

Detail of sleeve

Portrait of a Girl
William Beechey

Sir Thomas Lawrence

Detail showing half sleeve

The Little Gardener
John Hoppner
c 1790

Detail from Charlotte Grenville with her Children
by Joshua Reynolds
c 1778

Detail from Mr and Mrs John Cunstance of Norwich
and their daughter Frances
William Beechey
c 1786

Boy and Cat
John Russell

Portrait of a Young Girl
John Russell
c 1780

Unknown Girl
Louis Ami Arlaud-Jurine

Detail of sleeve compared to the Rice Portrait sleeve on the right
The portrait on the left has been dated c1790

Princess Amelia
Sir William Beechey

Princess Sophia
Sir William Beechey

The Romps
William Redmore Bigg

Collectors and experts on Eighteenth century costume Lillian and Ted Williams thought that the dress could date to the eighteenth century: 

Having carefully examined the actual portrait, as opposed to its reproduction, we find several elements that clearly suggest eighteenth century dating starting in the late 1780s. We ourselves have owned several eighteenth century gowns similar to the one pictured in the Rice Portrait. In the Rice Portrait, we note the fullness of the cut of the dress with substantial distribution of its fabric around the bodice rather than trained in the rear in the later Empire style. Furthermore, the gauze gathered around the neckline – which is not discernible in many photographic reproductions – is consistent with late eighteenth century garniture. Finally, the shoes and certainly the parasol with its fringe of cut green silk are consistent with the same period. As far as dating is concerned, the width of the ribbon at the bodice is of no consequence one way or the other in our view.

Lillian Williams'
18th Century shoe collection

In 1993 Richard Walker of the National Portrait Gallery wrote in a letter to Deirdre Le Faye that "I think the costume experts have been over-confident and the dress she wears could be of the 1790's"

Having looked at the these portraits I think that he is right - what do you think?

Thank you for reading. My next post on Deirdre Le Faye's 1995 article A Literary Portrait Re-Examined. Jane Austen and Mary Anne Campion, published in The Book Collector will follow soon.