Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

April 2 2017

Image of Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

Picture: via FT.com

Regular readers will know the case of the 'Rice Portrait', which claims to show Jane Austen. The painting has its defenders, including the family who own it, and who have their own website putting the case for the identity of the sitter here. Many others are unconvinced, including the former Chief Curator of the NPG in London, Jacob Simon.

Jacob's view of the picture has always been especially important, since he has been compiling an extremely useful and exhaustive online database of artist's suppliers in Britain - and a key piece of evidence in the case of the Rice portrait is a canvas maker's stamp on the back. The stamp is that of William Legg, who sold canvasses in High Holborn in London between abou 1801 and 1806. This is important because for the Rice Portrait to show Jane Austen it would need to have been painted in about the late 1780s.

Until now, only one example of a William Legg canvas stamp has been known. But in an article in the FT, writer Anjana Ahuja writes about a portrait she recently bought of a 'Mrs Smith' by the artist James Northcote (above). This painting is signed and dated 1803 - and it too has a William Legg canvas stamp on the back (below).

In other words, it's clear evidence that the stamp on the back of the Rice portrait must date the painting to the early 1800s. Therefore, it cannot show Jane Austen (born in 1775), for the sitter is clearly too young.

There have always been significant gaps in the case for the Rice portrait being Jane - not least its early provenance - and this latest evidence can only set the case back further still.

A new cache of artist's suppliers information has lately been uploaded to Jacob Simon's database; all available for free at the click of a mouse. Amazing.

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