Monday, June 13, 2011

The 'Rice' Portrait - a new series!

The 'Rice' Portrait of Jane Austen
This is the stunning portrait believed to be of Jane Austen that is known as the 'Rice' portrait because it was inherited by the late Henry Rice, a direct descendant of Jane's brother Edward Austen/Knight. My interest in this portrait began a few years ago, but earlier this year, Mrs. Henry Rice and her brother Mr. Robin Roberts contacted me about another portrait they thought I'd be interested to know about, a painting that seems to have been overlooked, which could possibly be of the Austen family, (you can read about that here).
I have always loved the 'Rice' portrait, which is just how I imagine a young Jane looked so when Mrs. Rice suggested meeting up for a chat about our mutual fascination with all things Jane Austen, I couldn't wait to meet her! I had so many questions I wanted to ask and Anne was so generous with her time, answering everything I wanted to know. It's always lovely to meet someone else who is as interested by Jane Austen and her life as I am, and we've met many times since. Mrs. Rice very kindly gave me the opportunity to go to Paris to see the portrait, and I can't tell you how thrilled I was to go and see Jane for myself!
  My husband and I set off very early to get the Eurostar train to Paris - we hadn't been to Paris for such a long time so it was an enormous treat! We had a little time to visit some tourist sites - just walking through Paris is always so wonderful, and to sit in a cafe to have lunch whilst watching the world pass by is an event in itself.

Eva Schwan and the 'Rice' Portrait

We were to see the portrait at the studio of Eva Schwan, the restorer who has been responsible for cleaning Jane, and bringing her back to life. Eva is a very talented lady with an M.A. not only from the Institut National du Patrimoine, but she also has an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, so it was fascinating to hear about her work. She spent many months painstakingly cleaning the portrait, little by little, and Eva told me how Jane seemed to look more and more pleased as her little gold earrings sparkled once more, and as the glossy spots on her gown twinkled again. It was a little like removing her make-up, Eva said, as the years of dirt and conservation paint were stripped away to reveal Ozias Humphry's original brushwork. I have to say the painting is absolutely beautiful. Jane looks fresher, and younger, and the soft curl is evident in her hair once more. The leaves on the trees are turning, their tips dashed with autumnal hues, and the sky overhead is a dramatic one, providing the perfect foil for her sheer gauzy muslin, with a slip of pink persian just revealed through the diaphanous layers. As Eva said, her slippers are back to their original tint - they look softer, almost like velvet, the colour of mink. The little green parasol doesn't look as if it will be strong enough to withstand a shower from the indigo sky above, but here is a young girl on the brink of becoming an adult, and doesn't she look proud to be holding such a trophy? Professor Marilyn Butler made the point in a Times article that Jane Austen makes reference to a young girl Mary and a parasol in her unfinished work, SanditonAnd I will get Mary a little parasol, which will make her as proud as can be. How grave she will walk about with it and fancy herself quite a little woman.
I completely agree, I'm sure this was a memory Jane had herself of having her own parasol. I shall be writing more on the subject later on.
It was wonderful to see the painting, and to meet Eva who chatted passionately about her work. It was a fabulous day that I shall never forget.
I am going to be doing a series of posts about the Rice portrait, on the provenance of the painting, including new evidence, and also about past misconceptions. I have asked Mrs. Rice if she would write about the history of the painting for us in her own words, as I think you'll be fascinated to hear about its story. I have loved hearing all about it, and have been privileged to have access to files of letters, pictures and documents from the Rice family, and other Austen family members. I shall be bringing these to your attention over the next few weeks! In due course, Mrs. Rice will be including all the new information on a website made especially for the purpose, so as soon as it's up and running, I will let you know!
There is some additional information on the artist Ozias Humphry who painted the portrait here and here.
Jane Odiwe



Thank you, Jane. It was just like being in Paris with you. Brilliant post. Thanks for sharing.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Maria - I just wish everyone could see the portrait! I had a fantastic day.

Jan Jones said...

Oh, Jane, that is SO BEAUTIFUL. You lucky thing, seeing it for real and hearing the history.

Thanks so much for posting.

Jane Odiwe said...

Jan, I am very lucky, and seeing the real thing was incredible. Photographs just don't do it justice.

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Oh Jane - what an adventure you are having. So exciting. I can see from the photo that the restortation has brightened the painting considerably. How wonderful to be able to see Ozias Humphry's brushwork. It must have sent shivers when you saw it.

I look forward to your continued posts on this fascinating subject. Thank you for your passionate investigation. We are all eternally grateful for your passion in Jane Austen.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Diana Birchall said...

Jane, I saw (and photographed for myself!) the Rice Portrait when it was passing through New York a couple of years ago (at Sothebys), and was very moved. I'm so absolutely delighted you are having this experience, with access and opportunity for study (not to mention a trip to Paris!). I can't wait to read your series, which has the delicious aroma of a book simmering!

Jane Odiwe said...

Laurel Ann, I have been having a lovely adventure, and it did send shivers down my spine! It was lovely to be able to see all the details that you just can't see on a photograph.

Diana, you know me so well! Isn't the painting fabulous? I was very lucky to be one of the first people to see the painting in its newly cleaned condition.

Sue Wilkes said...

Sounds like a fabulous trip, Jane! It's difficult to tell from the photo but I think the painting does look much brighter. Look forward to hearing about all your detective work1

Jane Odiwe said...

It was a great trip, Sue. I think everyone will be fascinated by Mrs. Rice's writings.