On this day in 1775, Jane Austen was born. She has, of course, gone on to become a literary legend, her works beloved the world over and her name feted so it is of no surprise that the owners of the portrait below are keen to prove that the young girl captured on canvas is none other than Austen as a child.
This is the Rice portrait; it has been owned by members of the Rice family for generations and they have long claimed that it shows the 13 year old Jane Austen and is a work commissioned by Jane's uncle, Francis Austen, in 1788. Through letters and family papers, the family believe that the painting is the work of Ozias Humphry, Painter in Crayons to the King.
The portrait has long been the subject of dispute as its supporters and detractors argue back and forth as to whether it truly is of Jane Austen. In 1948, Dr RW Chapman drew attention to the costume of the young lady in the portrait and argued that such clothes were not popular until the early nineteenth century, so the girl could not possibly by Austen, nor could the artist be Humphry, who had been forced by blindness to give up painting by this point.
Although others have disputed this and pointed to other similar costumes in apparently earlier paintings, this remains one of the major sticking points in the dating of the work.
In 2012, a 1910 photograph of the painting held in the Heinz Archive and Library was examined in forensic detail and appeared to show both the signature of Humphry and the name Jane Austen. The Rice family claim that restoration destroyed these inscriptions but the Naitonal Portrait Gallery have disputed these findings and state that the inscriptions were not visible in 1985, when they had the painting photographed.
Today the family continue to petition the National Portrait Gallery to accept the authenticity of the painting and the Gallery in its turn restates its position that this is not a Humphry, nor does it show Jane Austen.
What do you think?