A rarely seen portrait of Jane Austen emerges from a private collection to go on show in Winchester
The likeness that helped launch Jane Austen to posthumous worldwide fame is the latest addition to an exhibition dedicated to uncovering the real person behind the world famous author of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion.
Commissioned by Jane Austen’s nephew, the Revd James Edward Austen-Leigh, the rarely seen 1869 watercolour portrait was painted by James Andrews, who based it on the only confirmed portrait of Austen made during her lifetime by her sister Cassandra in 1810.
Andrews’ version was the model for the engraved plate used as a frontispiece to accompany Austen-Leigh’s pivotal 1870 biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, which brought her work to a wider audience and catapulted her to fame.
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The exhibition at Winchester Discovery Centre, The Mysterious Miss Austen, features six portraits of the author – including the Cassandra portrait , which is in the National Portrait Gallery.
Though the original version of the Andrews portrait is rarely displayed it has been reproduced in various guises, including further engravings and book frontispieces. A version of it will soon be making an appearance on the new £10 note, but in the meantime it will join five other portraits of Austen in the exhibition.
What’s interesting is how, when compared to Cassandra’s original, Andrews softened the face, rounded the features and made Austen’s whole appearance gentler – very much in keeping with Austen-Leigh’s sympathetic and sanitised Victorian biography, which effectively kick-started the worldwide obsession with all things Austen.
Presented in partnership with Jane Austen’s House Museum and as part of Austen 200, the programme of events marking the 2107 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the exhibition explores Austen’s life, work and her relationship to Hampshire.
Co-curator Louise West, a former curator of Jane Austen’s House Museum and chair of the Jane Austen 200 working group, said the exhibition offered “a new way of exploring Austen’s identity”.
“The bringing together for the first time of six portraits of Jane Austen will, we hope, provoke reaction and excite argument, about the mysterious Miss Austen,” she added.
Among the other treasures on show is the manuscript of an alternative ending to Austen’s final novel Persuasion, written in her own hand, and a volume of teenage writings, entitled by Austen Volume the Second, which was written when she was just 15 years old.
The latter contains the spoof History of England, a comic account of England from Henry IV to Charles I as told by ‘a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant historian.’ This parody of published history books includes coloured illustrations by Jane’s sister Cassandra.
Jane Austen’s silk pelisse coat – a twill weave with a small repeated pattern of oak leaves in a golden straw colour on a warm brown background (circa 1813-15), one of her purses and first editions of her works are also on display together with fascinating personal letters, early illustrations and a Friendship Book belonging to the Revd James Stanier Clarke, the Librarian of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and an acquaintance of Jane’s, containing an 1815 portrait that some also believe to be also of Austen.
Mysterious Miss Austen opens on May 13 2017 and runs until July 24 at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre. For the latest news and information about Jane Austen 200, visit www.janeausten200.co.uk
Winchester Discovery Centre
Winchester Discovery Centre is a new generation of libraries, run by Hampshire County Council. It houses a public library, two galleries, a performance hall, cafe and learning spaces.