Thursday, 13 June 2019

A Watercolour of the Rice Portrait

A Watercolour of Jane Austen

Startling new evidence has recently emerged in favour of the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, in the form of a previously unknown Victorian watercolour.

Watercolour of Rice Portrait

The watercolour was purchased at a second-hand shop in London by a member of the public who, realising that it was a copy of the Rice Portrait, contacted the owners. The painting is particularly interesting in that it shows the Rice Portrait as it was before 1920, when it narrowly escaped destruction in a catastrophic house fire and was subsequently cut to fit a Victorian frame. In the watercolour, Jane Austen stands in the centre of the painting as the artist originally intended, rather than slightly off centre as she is in the oil painting. The picture was sold as part of a house clearance; the previous owner is unknown. Chalk markings on the back, including the word ‘Starkey’, the number ‘13’ and the date ‘26/5/11’, are unidentified but may relate to previous sales of the painting. 

                                                                       Back of watercolour

The watercolour is housed in a plain gold frame. On the back is the stamp of the frame maker: Hogarth of 96 Mount Street. Joseph Hogarth and his family traded as picture framers in London for over 50 years from 1826 to 1890 but the address on Hogarth’s stamp, 96 Mount Street Grosvenor Square, narrows the date of framing to 1866-1886 when the firm traded from this address.[1]

                                                          Frame maker's stamp

On the back of the watercolour is inscribed: ‘Jane Austen after Romney by Fanny Countess of Winchilsea’. Comparison with family correspondence suggests that the inscription is in the hand of Henry Edward Harcourt Rice (1864-1943). If so, then how it came to him is not known. We do know that Harcourt Rice was given the Rice Portrait in 1928 by his cousin Gwenllian Rice (Lady Northborne) after the death of her father, so it is possible that the watercolour was given to him at the same time.

That Harcourt Rice wrote ‘after Romney’ on the watercolour suggests that the Zoffany attribution had been discarded by this time. Harcourt Rice clearly believed the portrait was in Romney’s style – that the portrait was by Romney’s friend Ozias Humphry would probably not have occurred to him, Humphry being then, as now, not well known as a painter in oils. How or when the watercolour left the Rice family is unknown.

                                                    Inscription on back of watercolour

Fanny’s full name was Frances Margaretta Finch-Hatton née Rice (1820-1909). She was the daughter of Jane Austen’s niece Elizabeth (Lizzie) Austen Knight (1800-1884) and Edward Royds Rice (1790-1878) and the sister of John Morland Rice (1823-1897), an early owner of the Rice Portrait. 

                                                       Fanny, Countess of Winchilsea

A letter from the historian of Magdalen College Oxford, John Rouse Bloxam[2], confirms that the Rice Portrait was given to John Morland Rice sometime between the previous owner’s death on 21 April 1882 and the date of the letter, 26 March 1883. It is reasonable to suppose that Fanny painted it after the Rice Portrait was given to her brother, so we can date the watercolour to between 1882 and 1886. On 17 October 1849 at the age of twenty-eight, Fanny Margaretta Rice married George William Finch-Hatton (1791-1858), the Earl of Winchilsea, nearly forty years her senior and already twice widowed. George was a friend of Fanny’s father, Edward Royds Rice and of Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight. The Finch-Hatton family seat was Haverholme Priory in Lincolnshire, but they also frequently stayed at their other country house, Eastwell Park, adjacent to the Austen-Knight family home at Godmersham. Jane Austen visited Eastwell Park frequently and met George several times. 

Fanny and George had four children, two of whom went on to become the 12th and 13th Earl of Winchilsea. George died in 1858 and for the next fifty years the Dowager Countess lived as a widow, frequently having family staying with her or visiting her relations. Austen scholar Margaret Hammond in her book Relating to Jane wrote that ‘the Haverholme house was always full of sisters and brothers, cousins and aunts’[3]. Margaret Hammond also notes that Fanny was ‘a more than averagely good amateur artist, exhibiting once at the Royal Academy’[4] and relates that during her honeymoon in Seville, Fanny spent some time copying a picture by Murillo which is still extant. A watercolour of the family home, Dane Court, now owned by Mrs Rice, the owner of the Rice Portrait, was probably also painted by her. 

                                                               Watercolour of Dane Court

When he was given the Rice Portrait, John Morland Rice was ‘much pleased with it’[5]. He hung it over his drawing-room mantelpiece and his niece Marcia Rice recorded in 1953 that he never had the slightest doubt as to its authenticity and delighted in telling the story of how Dr Newman used to say to him “you ought to possess the portrait of your Great Aunt. I shall leave it to you”.[6]

                                                                                John Morland Rice

The discovery of this watercolour shows that not only Morland Rice, but also his sister Fanny, had no doubt that the Rice Portrait was a portrait of Jane Austen. This is hardly surprising. The identity of the sitter had never been in question but even if it had, they would both have been sure it was Austen because there were women in their lives who had known Jane Austen personally.
Firstly, there was their mother, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Austen Knight, who was still living at Dane Court when the Rice Portrait was gifted to her son. 
Elizabeth Austen was born in 1800 to Edward Austen (1767-1852) and his wife Elizabeth Bridges (1773-1808). Adopted by the wealthy Knight family, Edward took possession of the estate at Godmersham in Kent in 1798 and took the name of Knight in 1812. Edward also owned an estate at Chawton, Hampshire where in 1809 he gave his mother and Jane and Cassandra the use of the bailiff’s cottage, just along the road from the main house.

In 1813 Godmersham house was being painted. The family removed to Chawton in April and remained there until September. Fanny Austen Knight (1793-1882), Edward’s eldest child, wrote that ‘Mrs Austen’s house is very near ours & of course we met every day frequently’.[7] When the family finally returned to Godmersham, Jane went with them and stayed until November. In April 1814 the family returned to Chawton in April and stayed until June. By the time the Austen Knights went back to Kent in the summer of 1814, Lizzie was fourteen and a half years old. She had seen her Aunt Jane almost every day for ten of the previous fourteen months and had come to know her well during that time.  

Lizzie married Edward Rice at eighteen, and the couple raised fifteen children at Dane Court. Evelyn Templetown, Fanny Winchilsea’s daughter, later wrote: ‘They truly were an exceptionally attractive and interesting family and one and all devoted to each other – and all of them adored their mother and had a deep affection and respect for their father.'[8] The Rice’s were a very close-knit family who were seldom apart for long.

John Morland Rice was particularly close to his family. An accident when he was young gave him recurrent bouts of ill health and he spent long periods staying at Dane Court with his mother and at Haverholme with Fanny. Fanny too spent long periods at Dane Court, so much so that Evelyn Templetown later remembered it as being her second home. She recalled that her grandmother Lizzie, who was beautiful in her youth, was ‘yet more beautiful in her old age, high bred, gracious and witty with an ever-young interest in all things that went on around her’.[9]

Lizzie’s granddaughter Marcia Rice wrote that her father had told her, ‘Grandmama “read Aunt Jane as no-one else could”. This was because she was her niece and could enter into the whole atmosphere of the wit and the setting of the books’.[10]

Lizzie Rice must have known if the portrait was not Jane Austen. It is inconceivable that Lizzie Rice would have allowed an image purporting to be of her Aunt Jane to be given to her son John, and for that same image to be painted by her daughter Fanny, if it was not Jane. But Elizabeth was not the only niece of Jane’s who could bear witness to it being a portrait of Jane Austen. Marianne (May) Austen Knight (1801-1895) was twenty months younger than Lizzie, born September 1801. As children the two had been close and they continued to be so throughout Lizzie’s life. Caroline Austen, another of Jane Austen’s nieces, after meeting Marianne in 1819, wrote to her brother James Edward Austen Leigh, ‘Her greatest personal recommendation to me, is being very like poor Aunt Jane.’[11]
Marianne never married and for many years lived at Godmersham, looking after her father and the rest of the family, until Edward Austen Knight’s death in 1852. After this Marianne became dependent on the goodwill of relatives. For years she lived with her brother Charles at the rectory at Chawton but by 1880 all her brothers were dead. Her elder sister Fanny was unwell, and her younger sister Louisa was living in Ireland. This left her sister Elizabeth at Dane Court. Marianne spent a good deal of time between 1880 and 1884 here. Marianne or ‘Aunt May’ was staying at Dane Court when Elizabeth Rice’s granddaughter Marcia Rice visited for two weeks in 1880 and found Aunt May on a long visit. ‘She seemed thoroughly established. I was greeted at the door of Dane Court by her, an active, bright, lively little lady in a white cap with lavender ribbons.’[12]

Back in 1814, Marianne would have been almost thirteen when the visit to Chawton came to an end. Like Lizzy, she had seen Jane Austen every day for months. Now in her eighties, Marianne was as sharp as ever. Staying at Dane Court with John Morland Rice’s mother, she too must have known about the portrait of Jane Austen which was given to her nephew in 1882 or 1883.

If the Rice Portrait was not of Jane Austen these two sisters would have known it. 

Lizzie Rice died in April 1884 after which Marianne, at the age of 84 visited her niece Fanny Winchilsea at Haverholme Priory and then travelled to Ballyare in Donegal to live with her younger sister, Louisa Hill (1804-1889). Jane Austen had been Louisa’s godmother - a needle case which Jane Austen made for her goddaughter, inscribed ‘with aunt Jane’s love’ is now held at Chawton House Museum. In December 1884, Marianne’s nephew, Lord Brabourne, published his Letters of Jane Austen A Memoir, using as a frontispiece for his book the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen. This was the first time Jane Austen’s letters had been published and Brabourne’s book must have been of considerable interest to Marianne and Louisa. Neither they nor anyone else in the family raised any objection to the portrait of their aunt which Brabourne used as a frontispiece. In June 1889 the indefatigable Marianne, now aged eighty-seven, made a visit to London and on to stay with her favourite nephew Montagu Knight at Chawton House. It would be surprising if Brabourne’s Letters had not been a topic of conversation.

No-one, including those members of the family who had known Jane Austen personally, protested or suggested that the Rice Portrait was not Jane Austen. The discovery of this watercolour demonstrates the opposite was true – the family undoubtedly believed that the portrait was of Jane Austen, else why paint a copy of it?

Marianne remained active, writing letters to her family, right up until her death in 1895 at the age of ninety-four. Longevity ran in the family; of Elizabeth and Edward Rice’s fifteen children, ten lived beyond the age of seventy and eight beyond eighty, well into the Twentieth Century.

The Rice family were clearly delighted to have been given the portrait of ‘Aunt Jane’ and not one member of the family raised any doubt about it being Jane Austen. Not those who had known her, nor those of the next generation who were far closer to her than we are. The discovery of this delightful watercolour demonstrates how pleased they were and is yet more evidence that the Rice Portrait is indeed a portrait of Jane Austen as the family have always believed it to be. 

                                                  The Rice Portrait and the watercolour

[1] See
[2] John Rouse Bloxam to General Gibbes Rigaud 26 March 1883 Bodleian Library ref Ms add b117
[3] Margaret Hammond Relating to Jane (London; Minerva Press 1998) p272
[4] Ibid p272
[5] John Rouse Bloxam 26 March 1883 op. cit.
[6] Marcia Alice Rice The Rices of Dane Court Kent History and Library Centre U4025/Acc/7747/160 p24
[7] Fanny Knight to Miss Chapman October 1813 CKS Knatchbull Archive U951/C109/2 quoted in Sophia Hillan May, Lou and Cass - Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland (Belfast; Blackstaff Press 2011)
[8] Jean Corder Akin to Jane p55
[9] Evelyn Templetown Beautiful Old Ladies Kent History and Library Centre U4025/Acc/7747/22
[10] Marcia Alice Rice The Rices of Dane Court Kent History and Library Centre U4025/Acc/7747/160 p51
[11] Caroline Austen to James Edward Austen Leigh 4 May 1819 Hampshire Record Office, Austen-Leigh  archive 23M93/86/3 quoted in Deirdre Le Faye A chronology of Jane Austen (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press 2013) p599
[12] Marcia Alice Rice The Rices of Dane Court op.cit. p10

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Evidence for Rice Portrait

There has been a great deal of evidence which has come to light over recent years which supports the Rice Portrait being a portrait of Jane Austen.

I have distilled the huge amount of evidence into a document which you can read here:

Evidence for the Rice Portrait

I hope you agree with me that the case for the picture is now overwhelming. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

New Primary Evidence for the Rice Portrait

The article below is also reproduced on the Rice Portrait website here: Rice Portrait

The Rice Portrait
©Bridgeman Images 2018

It is rare for new evidence to be uncovered relating to Jane Austen. It is rarer still for a document to come to light from someone who was close to Jane’s immediate family. So, the appearance of a previously unknown note, written by Jane Austen’s great-niece Fanny Caroline Lefroy (1820-1885), is a significant discovery.

Even more exciting is the fact that the note relates to the painting known as the Rice Portrait.

The note was kept in Jane Austen’s writing desk, now in the care of the British Library. It has been placed inside a small brown envelope, on the front of which Fanny has written:

History of the portrait of Jane Austen


The note reads:

The history of the portrait of Jane Austen now in the possession of Morland Rice her Gt nephew.

Old Dr Newman, fellow of Magdalen years ago told him that he had a portrait of Jane Austen the novelist, that had been in his family many years. He stated that it was done at Bath when she was about 15 & he promised to leave him (Morland Rice) the picture.

A few months before Dr Newman died, he wrote to a friend of his (a Dr Bloxam) sending him a picture as a farewell present & added “I have another picture that I wish to go to your neighbour Morland Rice. This a portrait of Jane Austen the novelist by Zoffany. Her picture was given to my step-mother by her friend Colonel Austen of Kippendon [sic], Kent because she was a great admirer of her works”.

On the second page Fanny Lefroy continues:

Colonel Austen died 1859. He could not have had the portrait painted himself. He must have inherited it from his father John [corrected to Francis Motley] Austen who was first cousin to Jane Austen’s father, in 1789 the date of the picture Colonel Austen was probably not twenty.

The note is unsigned, but by comparing the note with other documents held in the Hampshire Record Office, we know that it is in the hand of Fanny Caroline Lefroy. A different hand has corrected Fanny’s note by replacing ‘John’ with ‘Francis Motley’.

Although it is undated, the note must have been written before Fanny’s death on 29 January 1885. We know that Henry Austen, nephew of Colonel Thomas Austen, visited Fanny on 8 September 1884 and it is possible that it was written around the time of this visit.

Fanny Caroline Lefroy never met Jane Austen, she was born three years after Austen’s death. However, her mother Anna (1793-1872), daughter of Jane Austen’s brother James, knew Jane Austen very well. As a young child, Anna stayed with her aunts Jane and Cassandra for some time after the death of her mother. As she grew older, she corresponded regularly with Jane - some of the best letters we have from Jane Austen are the ones from 1814 offering advice and encouragement when Anna was trying her own hand at writing and it is evident that the two women had a close relationship.

In 1864 Anna Lefroy wrote her ‘Recollections of Aunt Jane’ in a letter to her brother James Edward Austen-Leigh (1798-1874), who was compiling material for a biography of his aunt. Fanny, who never married, lived with her mother, and Jane Austen must have been a frequent topic of discussion during this time.

In the years after her mother’s death in 1872, Fanny Caroline Lefroy began working on her Family History Manuscript, a detailed history of the Austen and Lefroy families. At around this time she published three articles about Jane Austen in Temple Bar Magazine. In these articles Fanny’s in-depth knowledge of Jane Austen and her works is evident. She was undeniably a devotee of Jane Austen and is also recognised as an authority on Austen family history.

Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s thoughts about this portrait should therefore be taken very seriously indeed and her unequivocal description on the envelope and the heading of her note that this is a portrait of Jane Austen is very striking.

By the time she wrote her note, Fanny must have known about the letter Dr Harding-Newman (1811-1882) sent to John Rouse Bloxam in December 1880 (held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford), in which he outlined the history of the portrait:

I should like to give another painting of Jane Austen, the novelist, by Zoffany, to her relative Morland Rice. It is of a girl about 15 and came into my family the gift of Col. Austen of Chippington [sic], to my mother-in-law, or rather step-mother, my father’s second wife, who was a great admirer of the novelist. I can remember Col. Austen visiting this place. Latterly, when at Bramber, I have failed to fall in with my old friend. I don’t think he can have forgotten me, I was at Oxford when he knocked his head against a post and ascertained that the post was the harder of the two.

Dr Thomas Harding Newman’s step-mother was Eliza(beth) Ann Hall (1791-1831). Eliza Hall may have known Jane Austen personally as her aunt, Ann Humffries, was married to Henry Hawley of Leybourne Grange for 40 years. The Hawleys were friends of the Austens and are mentioned in Jane Austen’s letters. Two of Henry Hawley daughters married into the Bridges family, also close friends of the Austens. Eliza Hall was one of a select band of admirers of Austen in the early nineteenth century at a time when Austen’s works were not widely read and the reason for this may well have been that she had met Jane Austen.

We now have three documents confirming that Fanny Caroline Lefroy believed that the portrait was painted in or around 1789:

1) In a letter to her cousin Mary Augusta Austen Leigh dated 23 October 1883, Fanny wrote: ‘In 1789 the year it was painted she was a school girl in the Abbey School here.

2) In his letter to Morland Rice dated 9 September 1884 after visiting Fanny, Henry Morland Austen reporting on his visit wrote: ‘The date on your picture is (she thinks) 1788 or 9, making her not 14.’

[note the wording ‘the date ON your picture’]

3) In this newly discovered note, Fanny Caroline Lefroy wrote: In 1789 the date of the picture

Dr Newman’s letter made no mention of the date the picture was painted so Fanny must have seen or heard something to make her so specific that the portrait was painted in 1789. The most likely explanation is that she saw the date on the picture for herself or that she was told about the date from someone else who had seen it on the picture. 

We must remember that in Fanny’s time it would have been possible to see more detail on the picture than we can now. At that time the painting was housed in an eighteenth-century oak frame. In 1920 the portrait narrowly escaped destruction in a calamitous house fire – it was saved by being thrown from a window – and afterwards it was cleaned and cut to fit a Victorian frame. Later restorations have included overpainting, which has since been removed by more recent conservation work. Recent examination of early twentieth century photographic plates of the painting has revealed the words ‘Jane Austen’ and the date ‘178_’ (the last digit is unclear) on the top right of the picture, as well as the signature of the artist, Ozias Humphry (not Zoffany as was once believed).

As Fanny Lefroy correctly observed, Colonel Thomas Austen (1775-1859) would have been too young to have commissioned the picture himself so he must have inherited it from his father, Francis Motley Austen (1747-1815). It is likely that the portrait was originally commissioned by Francis Motley Austen’s father, Francis Austen (1697-1791), a wealthy lawyer and landowner based in Sevenoaks who is known to have acted in loco parentis to Jane Austen’s father George Austen. John Hubback, grandson of Jane’s brother Francis, lived with his grandfather as a boy. He later recorded that great-uncle Francis Austen was a regular visitor to the Austen family home:

As a boy at Steventon Rectory, before he [Francis Austen] went to sea in 1788, he was a great favourite with another Francis Austen, his grandfather’s brother, a frequent visitor of the Rectory.

It is known from family letters that Jane Austen along with her sister and her parents stayed with old Francis Austen at Sevenoaks in the summer of 1788 when there was a grand family dinner. Jane Austen’s cousin Philadelphia Walter told her brother that they were ‘all in high spirits & disposed to be pleased with each other’. By the time the Austen family made their visit to Kent, the twelve-year-old Jane Austen had already begun writing. Austen’s early pieces are exuberant, full of life and great fun to read. Her characters steal, get drunk, commit sexual misdemeanours and even murder. The young girl who looks out so confidently at the world, is entirely consistent with the intelligent and lively author of these early works.

In her note, Fanny Lefroy refers to ‘Old Dr Newman’, which carries a hint of familiarity. It is possible that she had met Dr Harding Newman as recent research reveals that they were related. Fanny Lefroy’s second cousin, Anne Lefroy Newman, was the sister-in-law of Dr Harding Newman and the niece of Tom Lefroy, who is the subject of the very first letters we have from Jane Austen:

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.

Lefroy Family Tree

It was Anne Lefroy Newman’s son, Benjamin Harding Newman, who passed the portrait to the Rice family. This is recorded in a letter from John Rouse Bloxam to a friend, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford:

Talking of paintings Hardman-Newman [sic], nephew of Dr Newman has just sent me a full-length portrait by Zoffany of Miss Jane Austen, the novelist, to give to Rice, who is a connection of the Lady. Rice is much pleased with it – I knew Newman intended to leave it to Rice but did not – but his nephew to his great credit has given it.

After the portrait was returned to the wider Austen family, it is apparent that it was accepted as being a portrait of Jane Austen. John Morland Rice, Austen’s great-nephew, had no doubts about it. According to his daughter Marcia:  

Over his drawing-room mantelpiece hung the portrait of Jane Austen by Zoffany – it was his great pride. Often did he relate the story of how Dr Newman of Magdalen used to say to him, 'you ought to possess the portrait of your great Aunt, I shall leave it to you.'

Lord Brabourne (Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen), another great-nephew, accepted it was Jane Austen and used the portrait as the frontispiece for his 'Life and Letters of Jane Austen' published in 1884.

Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, daughter of Jane Austen’s nephew and biographer James Edward Austen Leigh, used it for the frontispiece of her biography of her great-aunt, Personal Aspects of Jane Austen, noting of the picture that ‘it is of my great Aunt Jane Austen’ and her brother William Austen-Leigh used it in Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters. A Family Record published in 1913.

Great-nephew John Hubback, who recounted in his autobiography that he had spent much of his boyhood at the home of his grandfather Francis, brother of Jane Austen, also had no doubt that the portrait as being of Jane Austen. It was he who the National Portrait Gallery approached in the 1930s when they were looking for a portrait of Jane Austen for the gallery, as they hoped to buy the picture for their collection. It was only at this time that any doubts were raised about the picture being of Jane Austen, and this was only after they were informed by John Hubback that the Rice family would not be selling the picture at that time.

The evidence and the provenance for this painting is extremely strong.

With the discovery of this note written by Fanny Caroline Lefroy, there are now five primary documents which support this portrait being of Jane Austen:

1. A letter from the then owner, Dr Newman, dated 30 December 1880 outlining the provenance. (Thomas Harding Newman to John Rouse Bloxam, Bodleian Library)

2. A letter from John Rouse Bloxam dated 26 March 1883 confirming that the portrait had been given to Morland Rice who was ‘much pleased with it’. (John Rouse Bloxam to General Gibbes Rigaud, Bodleian Library) The portrait has remained in the Rice family ever since.

3. A letter from Fanny Caroline Lefroy confirming she knew about the portrait and that the date of the portrait was 1789. (Fanny Caroline Lefroy to Mary August Austen Leigh, Hampshire Record Office)

4. A letter from Henry Morland Austen to John Morland Rice confirming the date of the portrait as 1788 or 1789. (Kent History and Library Centre)

5. A note written by Fanny Caroline Lefroy again confirming the date of 1789 and re-iterating the provenance.

To continue to doubt the authenticity of this portrait would be surprising, indeed some strange and unusual acrobatics would be required. One would need to set aside all five pieces of documentary evidence, set aside the provenance provided by Dr Harding-Newman which is supported by recent research on Eliza Hall and set aside the compelling evidence that the picture was painted by Ozias Humphry. Such acrobatics are not necessary or justified.

It is now time for this beautiful portrait to be universally accepted as being an endearing representation of a young Jane Austen.