Still, sadly, not Jane Austen
August 29 2013
Regular readers may remember a story from last year about the 'Rice Portrait' of a girl once thought to be Jane Austen. There was a flurry of excitement when it was announced that a high resolution scan of a photograph made in 1910 revealed some hitherto unseen 'writing' in the top right hand corner of the painting. This writing was thought to state the name of the artist, Ozias Humpry and the name of the sitter, Jane Austen. Now, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Jane Austen scholar Claudia L. Johnson of Princeton University has accepted the evidence, and the thus the identification of the Rice portrait as Jane.
I'm surprised that Professor Johnson has done so. You can see the 1910 photograph in greater detail here, and sadly it doesn't in fact say what has been suggested. It's worth repeating here the view of Jacob Simon, former chief curator of the National Portrait Gallery, London, who rightly doubts the identity:
The [Rice Portrait] website claims that the portrait is signed several times in monogram, inscribed JANE and dated 1788 but, from my lengthy experience of examining British portraits, these apppear to be purely incidental and meaningless markings. They were not noted by Thomas Harding Newman, owner of the portrait in 1880, who attributed it to Zoffany. They do not appear in photographs taken by Emery Walker in about 1910, despite claims to the contrary on the website. They were not apparent to the professional painting conservator who examined the portrait with others at Henry Rice's request before cleaning it in 1985. They were not apparent to Christie's experienced cataloguing staff in 2007 when the portrait was put up for sale in New York, despite an earlier report of initials on the portrait.