Jane Austen's Portraits

'I would give a good deal, that is as much as I could afford, for a sketch which Aunt Cassandra made of her on one of their expeditions - sitting down out of door on a hot day, with her bonnet strings untied,' Jane's niece Anna Lefroy wrote to (James) Edward Austen Leigh in 1862.

The 'bonnet portrait' has good provenance, it was inherited by Cassy Esten Austen, Jane and Cassandra's niece on the death of her Aunt Cassandra and remains in the Austen family. It is signed C.E.A. and dated 1804. There is little dispute about its genuineness - although as a guide to Jane Austen's appearance it is not much help!

The small, unfinished sketch is owned by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). It is thought to have been drawn by Cassandra but is unsigned and undated. It had once been in the ownership of descendants of Jane's brother Charles Austen but was sold to a private collector in the 1920's. The NPG bought it in the 1940s. It may not be a reliable likeness - Cassandra has painted Jane's eyes brown not hazel - but there's something attractive about it. It shows a very different Jane to the later spin-off portraits - rebellious, impatient Jane, the one who didn't suffer fools gladly. And for that reason I like it even if Austen scholar Robert Chapman did dismiss it as 'a disappointing scratch'.

The first of the spin-offs from the Cassandra sketch. When James Edward Austen Leigh was writing his Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, he commissioned local artist James Andrews of Maidenhead to 'pretty up' Cassandra's sketch and this was what Mr Andrews came up with. With a posture less defensive and more demure than the original  - a frillier dress and  rounder face - we are losing the 'tall, spare woman' described by those who knew her.

The firm of Lizars produced this engraving from the Andrews Portrait for use in the Memoir. Her cap is even frillier and her eyes as large as saucers. 'I confess, to not thinking it much like the original; - but that the public will not be able to detect,' said Jane's niece Cassy Esten Austen when it was produced.

The Spectator in their Christmas Day 1869 issue, commented that it was 'refinement, playfulness, and alertness, rather than depth of intellect, which the face seemed to express.' Quite.

This portrait was engraved in 1873 for Evert A. Duyckink's Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America. 

Look closely at the fourth finger on 'Jane's' left hand - yes, you are not mistaken - she is wearing a wedding ring. But as the rest of the portrait is such a travesty maybe its not so surprising. Jane was variously described as a 'tall thin spare woman,' as  'tall and slight', even as 'a poker or a fire screen or any other thin upright piece of wood or iron'. No sign of that tall, thin woman in this portrait; she has been transformed into a plump, vacuous Victorian matron.

Hmm, shall we even talk about this version, which was published in Marie Claire Magazine? Best not, eh?

Inevitable I suppose that we would end up with the Lizars image - there is a paucity of choice after all - so here she is on the £10 note due to be issued in 2017.

This silhouette entitled L'amiable Jane is also owned by the National Portrait Gallery and they claim it to be of Jane Austen.

Provenance is dubious - it turned up pasted into volume II of a second edition of Sense and Sensibility with the name A.E. Oakley written in volume I.

Robert Chapman persuaded the NPG to buy it. Originally claimed to be by Mrs Collins, it is now  described as being by an unknown artist and from circa 1810 - 1815.

The Rice Portrait - Once known as the Zoffany Portrait. The portrait is owned by Mrs Anne Rice, whose husband was a descendant of Jane Austen's brother Edward.

To say this painting has had a chequered history would be putting it mildly. A previous owner, Rev. Dr. Thomas Harding Newman, claimed it was painted by Zoffany and the mis-attribution subsequently caused a whole load of trouble for this painting. I believe it to be a painting of Jane Austen by Ozias Humphry, painted in 1788 or 1789

The Stanier-Clarke portrait - The portrait is unnamed, unsigned and undated but was found pasted into what was indisputably the Friendship Book of the Rev. James Stanier-Clarke, the librarian to the Prince of Wales who received Jane Austen for tea in November 1815 and subsequently maintained a regular correspondence with her.

The book was discovered in an antiquarian bookshop by Richard Wheeler who was convinced that the portrait was of Jane Austen. It is now owned by his son.

The Byrne Portrait - the latest entrant in the pantheon of Austen portraits. Although it has been known about for some time it was thought to have been an imaginary portrait painted after Austen's death and was auctioned as such by collector Roy Davids.

The new owner, Austen biographer Paula Byrne claims it is Jane Austen and having researched this portrait (and after numerous wrong turns), I agree with her. I believe it to have been drawn by a Henry Smedley at his father's house in Westminster, probably in late 1815.


  1. I disagree as to all except the portraits done by Cassandra. No hint of sitting for a portrait is in Austen's letters and she rarely would be in London and not in that section of the Westminster. Will have to see if her movements can be traced . Who commissioned the paintings? Austen wouldn't waste her money on a portrait. It would have cost more than she made on a book. The Clarke sketch has nothing to say that it was Austen he sketched. The Clarke sketch and the Byrne portrait are said to have both been made in 1815. They do not look anything alike in face, form, age , or clothes.

  2. Apologies I did not see your comment until today. A few points - if you check Austen's letters you will see Austen was in London for a good few weeks at the end of 1815 when she was nursing her brother Henry. She wrote from there on 18 October 1815 and remained there until 16 December 1815. It is documented in Austen's letter of 15 November 1815 that she visited Rev. Stanier Clarke at Carlton House on 'Monday last'. Neither the Stanier Clarke sketch or the Byrne portrait would have required a financial outlay. She twice mentions St James' Church Piccadilly in her letters which was where Rev. Edward Smedley. The view from the window in the Byrne portrait accords with the location of Smedley's house in Westminster.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog and post your comments.

  3. The Byrne portrait might also offer another important pieceof info -- just what kind of cap Jane was wearing in the Cassandra Portrait. (I've seen it depicted as a kind of kerchief in recreations from the Jane Austen Museum, but they don't look right -- it's not as lacy as the Lizars picture but it's certainly more ornate than a mere headscarf.)

  4. Erato Thank you for your comment. I think the cap Jane is wearing in the sketch by Cassandra is very different to that in the Byrne portrait but this is not surprising - Cassandra's sketch is a rough portrait of a woman in everyday dress whereas in the Byrne portrait she is clearly dressed up for an occasion or at least for visiting. Of course one would expect that she would wear different attire for indoors and out as we all do. As for the later prettified versions, they have no historical value for decoding what Austen may have worn in my view.

  5. why not do a ground penetrating radar scan over her crypt and do a facial reconstruction?