Interest has been piqued by the revelation that a recently discovered portrait drawn in 1815 could very well be a true likeness of Regency author Jane Austen. The BBC released this news on December 5th when revealing the Boxing Day scheduling of a documentary programme discussing the portrait and the process of validating its provenance.
Its owner, a scholar and author of literary biographies, Dr Paula Byrne, received the portrait as a gift and immediately recognised the facial likeness to portraits of close relatives of Jane Austen. Sketched in pencil on vellum, the new find follows stylistic conventions of art at the time, The Telegraph reports
, making it historically correct for the late Regency period. It shows a confident woman in the act of writing; her right hand holding a pen to paper seems to be the highlighted area of the picture.
Speaking to the BBC
, Dr. Byrne said:
"When Jane Austen was writing, she wrote her novels anonymously. People didn't really know who she was at all and even after her death, when her name appears in print for the first time, she's not at all popular."
Dr Byrne has recently completed a biography of Jane Austen to be published in 2012, and is well-acquainted with other family portraits that would seem to offer some likeness to this 'new' rendition of Jane. Three of Jane’s six brothers, James, Henry and Francis, all sport similarly elongated noses to Jane's as it appears in this new drawing, as may be seen in their portraits on the website of the Jane Austen Centre
Portraits of the author of Pride and Prejudice
, among other influential novels set in the social English middleclass of the early nineteenth century, are rare and reportedly became heavily sentimentalised by engravers when the novels finally found success. Fans of Austen’s books are above all fans of an independent-minded witty woman such as is seen in the subject of this new portrait.