Friday, July 1, 2011

The Rice Portrait Provenance by Mrs. Henry Rice - The Rev. John Morland Rice, 1823-1897, and Admiral Sir Ernest Rice, 1840-1927

Mrs. Henry Rice continues the fascinating history of the Rice portrait with the Rev. John Morland Rice, and Admiral Sir Ernest Rice. Thank you for joining us again!

Morland Rice, the sixth owner of the portrait was the fourth son of Elizabeth Austen and Edward Royd Rice, who must have been devoted, producing fifteen children in all. He was called Morland after his mother's 'dear friend from girlhood' Margaretta Morland, and received the portrait in 1883. He wrote to various members of the family about it, and was told by the elderly family historian Miss Fanny Caroline Lefroy (whose mother had known Jane Austen) that she 'knew before of the portrait in your posession, and but for one or two difficulties would have no doubt about its authenticity'. She also believed that 'the date on your picture is (she thinks) 1788 or 9, making her (Jane) not 14.' She was correct, we have discovered a date on the back of Jane's canvas of 1788, making her in that year, not quite 13. The other small difficulties were that the Rice family believed the false 'Zoffany' attribution, and were wondering if the portrait could have been painted in Bath.

In 1884 Morland's first cousin Lord Brabourne, Fanny Knight's eldest son, published the first book of Jane Austen's letters. He discovered that Morland Rice posessed Jane's portrait and enquired of Mr. Cholmondley Austen-Leigh (who knew the portrait) about it. Mr. Cholmondley Austen-Leigh wrote to Lord Brabourne who then wrote to his publisher Bentley, as follows: 'Mr. Austen-Leigh writes that the evidence seems against the authenticity of the picture, which must be if authentic of Jane when a young girl of 14 or 15.' Lord Brabourne then continues: 'Mr. Rice's letter, without communication with Mr. Austen-Leigh, says it is of a girl of 15, I incline to think therefore it is a true bill.' He then published it, half-length as the frontispiece for his book.
Another letter describing John Morland's enjoyment of the portrait was written by his niece, Marcia Rice:
"Over his drawing-room hung the portrait of Jane Austen by Zoffany - it was his great pride. Often did he relate the story of how Dr. Newman of Magdalen used to say to him - 'You ought to posess the portrait of your great-aunt, I shall leave it to you.' He had never the slightest doubt as to its authenticity to mar his joy in the posession of the portrait."
Morland Rice married Caroline York in 1864 but died childless in 1897 leaving the portrait to his younger brother's wife, his sister-in-law who had married Admiral Sir Ernest Rice.

Admiral Sir Ernest Rice 1840-1927

The seventh owner of the portrait, Sir Ernest Rice, rose to the rank of Admiral and at one point was made Governor of Malta. He is reputed to have been more than attached to the Queen of Greece, and although certainly dashing, managed to run two of his ships aground which caused him to be known as 'Ground Rice' in the Navy! (My husband met Lord Louis Mountbatten who asked him if the 'Ground Rice' who had taught him navigation was any relation. Henry said that he was, and added that the family believed his navigational skills were somewhat sketchy!) He received the painting from his wife, the sister of Morland Rice's wife on their deaths. He hung it over the fireplace, at his home at Sibbertswold House near Dover, but unfortunately one cold December night he burnt his house down. Although 80 at the time, he himself threw all the family portraits out of the drawing room windows. Tradition has it that Jane went first, but he broke her frame when she hit the lawn, and afterwards he cut the picture down (as was the somewhat barbaric custom then to fit her into a smaller, plainer Victorian frame.)
Thus it was that Ozias Humphry's notes along the back of the top of the portrait were folded back and hidden under the stretcher and a new lining. Ozias had run a large studio, and wrote on the back of his pictures noting the name, the date, and often initializing these notes with his distinctive OH monogram. He also did this on his miniatures and pastels. (My husband sold a small portrait of Edward Knight which had belonged to Elizabeth Austen to Chawton House Museum. A member of the public sent in a sketch of it to the museum which was inscribed on the back with his name and the date. It was painted in 1783, at the time of his adoption, and is also by Ozias Humphry.)
On his death in 1927, his daughter Gwenlian inherited Jane's portrait; she had married Lord Northbourne, a local peer.

Next time, we shall be hearing about Lady Northbourne, and Henry Edward Harcourt Rice, the eighth and ninth owners of the portrait!

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