Quids in: a new portrait of Jane Austen?

In the week that the radio kept telling me to keep an eye out for the last Jane Austen on the new fivers, this portrait came up at Franklin Brown’s in Edinburgh (Antiques and Interiors February 25th lot 106 oil on canvas 60 x 50cm). It shows a rather stiffly-painted young woman in about 1810.


My first thought was, wouldn’t it be mad if this was Jane Austen? That’s certainly your first feeling. It could be almost any woman of the period, of course – and yet!

The one indisputable portrait, the watercolour drawing by Jane’s sister Cassandra shows a compatible likeness, judging from photos. ‘Even so,’ notes the NPG, ‘Jane’s relatives were not entirely convinced by it: ‘there is a look which I recognise as hers’, her niece wrote, ‘though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasing countenance it is so far a truth.’

3630,Jane Austen,by Cassandra Austen

(c) National Portrait Gallery

A very probable portrait, the silhouette pasted in the back of the 1814 First Edition of Mansfield Park, and inscribed l’amiable Jane shows a high-bridged nose, which the Edinburgh portrait might have interpreted more bluntly.

NPG 3181; Jane Austen by Unknown artist

(c) National Portrait Gallery

Who knows? She sold for £360, a good price for the frame on its own. We didn’t bid for her. Because all the counter-arguments of experience came flooding in. We’ve been here before, and you can drive yourself round the bend trying to prove the identification. You could write a Gothick novel about the power they have over you. But no one expects an authentic, undiscovered portrait of an icon. Until it appears. I wish the new owner all the best of luck with it. It’s an intriguing picture.

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