Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Why the 'Northcote' portrait is a fake

Rice portrait of Jane Austen

On 01 April 2017 the Financial Times ran a major piece in their weekend magazine about the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen. (Published online on 31 March 2017).

Ostensibly the article was about a portrait which Jacob Simon of the National Portrait Gallery authenticated as being by James Northcote. The portrait has James Northcote's name written on it and the date 1803.

It is relevant for the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen because on the back of the picture is a stamp for the linen supplier, William Legg. The same stamp is on the back of the Rice Portrait.

it is important because Jacob Simon of the NPG has always claimed that the Legg stamp on the back of the Rice Portrait relates to a certain William Legg who was known to have been trading in Reading until 1801. However the known stamps for that William Legg all read W&J Legg.

Until now there has been no other known stamp which reads Wm Legg as the stamp does on the back of the Rice Portrait.

Then, by sheer coincidence, a portrait turned up in the hands of a journalist for a national newspaper (what a stroke of luck Jacob!). 

You can read more about the Legg stamp on the Rice Portrait and on this portrait on my blog HERE
You can read more about the mysterious companion portrait to this alleged Northcote painting HERE

The 'Northcote' portrait

However this portrait is not what it seems.

Alleged signature and date 
There is not a shred of documented evidence to back this portrait. Unbelievably, Jacob Simon took no notes when he authenticated the portrait as being a Northcote. He authenticated it verbally on the spot without any research. He did not investigate the provenance. He took no photographs of the alleged stamp on the back which he claims shows the date 1802.

Jacob Simon claims this shows the date (18)02 on the far right.
Both Jacob Simon and Anjana Ahuja, the owner of the Northcote portrait refuse to share high resolution images of the Legg stamp or to allow anyone else to verify the portrait.

The Financial Times, for whom Anjana Ahuja, the owner of the Northcote portrait, is a regular contributor, refused to allow Mrs Rice who is now the owner of the Rice Portrait any right to reply when she complained that the article unfairly targeted her picture.

How about a high resolution image of the Legg stamp?
The article itself was a rehash of old arguments against the portrait, many of which have since been discredited. The 'usual suspects' were used to back of the arguments, in particular journalist and filmmaker Henrietta Foster, a long time campaigner against the Rice Portrait.

The National Portrait Gallery has now confirmed that there is no written authentication report, no photo of the date stamp on the back of the portrait, no evidence whatsoever for this picture except the word of a man who has lied about examining the Rice Portrait, secretly interfered in the auction of the Rice Portrait in 2007 and who has campaigned against it for decades.

The Northcote painting is a fake. There is no evidence that it is truly a Northcote and no evidence that it is of 'Mrs Smith'. It does nothing to disprove the Rice Portrait. That an official of the National Portrait Gallery would go so far as to fake a portrait in order to prove a point should cause all of us very serious concern.