Sunday 24 September 2017

Rarely-seen Jane Austen portrait on show to mark 200 years since writer's death

By Sherna Noah

The portrait reinvented the image of the famous novelist.

One of the most famous images of Jane Austen is returning to the UK for an exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the author’s death.

The James Andrews watercolour was commissioned by the Pride And Prejudice novelist’s nephew in 1869 and will appear on the new £10 note from 2017.

But the rarely-seen portrait was snapped up by a private collector, thought to be in the US, for £164,500 at an auction in London in 2013.

Austen’s nephew, the Rev James Edward Austen-Leigh, commissioned the portrait to accompany the Memoir Of Jane Austen, his influential, first full-length biography of the Sense And Sensibility writer.

It was based on the only confirmed portrait of Austen made during her lifetime – a sketch by her sister Cassandra, which is in the National Portrait Gallery.

That portrait will also feature in the exhibition, along with Austen’s teenage writings and the original ending she penned for another of her great novels, Persuasion.

Also on show is a manuscript of a volume of writings, including a spoof History Of England, which she penned at the age of 16.

Highlights in The Mysterious Miss Austen include Austen’s silk pelisse coat, featuring a pattern of oak leaves, her purse and sewing materials case.

The show, at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre – in the city where Austen died in 1817 and just a few miles from the Hampshire village where she was born, will feature six portraits of the Emma and Mansfield Park author, under one roof for the first time.

Co-curator Louise West told the Press Association that the watercolour was one of the first images to present Austen in the way she is remembered today.

“The image shows the way that Jane Austen’s family, in the Victorian period, wanted her to be represented,” she said.

“They were dissatisfied with her sister Cassandra’s sketch, which is in the National Portrait Gallery.

“She was sort of scowling, it was a bit cartoonish … warts and all.

“The family were reinventing their aunt to become more palatable to Victorian readers. They commissioned this portrait to represent her the way they wanted her to be remembered.

“This is the start of the Jane Austen fan club. This is where it all took off, the beginning of the image of her as somebody who we still think of as very sweet, quite pretty, you don’t necessarily see any intelligence in that face. She looks nice, not threatening.

“The sketch by her sister Cassandra is a tiny bit threatening.”

In 2013, a ring once owned by Austen which was sold to US singer Kelly Clarkson was saved for the nation after a museum where the author lived, Jane Austen’s House Museum, raised more than £150,000 to buy it.

:: The Mysterious Miss Austen runs from May 13 to July 24 at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre.

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