A few months ago I was contacted by the owner of the ‘Rice Portrait’, Mrs. Henry Rice. She’d seen my work on the internet, and also noted my own particular interest I have in portraits of Jane Austen. We got chatting about another picture she thought I might be interested to see, and we ended up meeting one another and have on several occasions since then. I’ve always loved the ‘Rice Portrait’ ever since I found an engraving of it in an old book. For me, the girl in the picture looks every inch as I imagine Jane Austen would have looked. It’s interesting to compare her face and its proportions to the one in the National Portrait Gallery because they are very similar. That picture shows an older Jane, one who refuses to smile as her sister takes her likeness, but both are charming images in their own way.
The provenance of the painting can be traced back to Jane’s Great Uncle Francis who it is believed had the painting commissioned. Mrs. Rice has very kindly agreed to write about the history of the painting, and if you’d like to know more there is a new series of posts starting on my blog.
I was invited to go and see the portrait for myself in Paris, which was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. My husband and I took the train to Paris, and made our way to the tiny studio where the picture has now been cleaned, and stripped back to its eighteenth century paint, which was a long and painstaking process. I have to say it was a thrilling experience to stand right in front of it, and look Jane in the eye! It’s almost life-size, and is beautifully painted. Photographs really don’t do it justice – the glossy spots (reminiscent of Fanny Price’s gown in Mansfield Park) really catch the light, the muslin of her gown is so diaphanous that you can see the tint of a pink underslip, and she has little gold earrings in her ears. I’ve always thought her hair looked a little flat, but it’s possible to see the waves and curls when you get a closer look.
Over the next few weeks Mrs. Rice will be writing about the portrait on my blog, and we’ll be bringing news of new evidence to light, as well as addressing some old issues, with new research!