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Ozias Humphry and the Austen Family: Part One

Ozias Humphry, Self-Portrait
I don't think it's any secret that I've always been a great admirer of the 'Rice Portrait', so when I was contacted recently by the owner, Mrs. Henry Rice, I was incredibly thrilled. She and her brother, Mr. Robin Roberts, have been working tirelessly in their quest to find out more about the painting, to reinforce its existing provenance as the only known oil portrait of Jane Austen painted by Ozias Humphry. Over the next few weeks I shall be bringing news of their exciting discoveries, as well as a painting believed to be of the Austen family that could well be described as a 'Conversation Piece'!

I thought it best to talk a little first about Ozias Humphry himself, to give a little background to the artist's life, and to show his connections to the Austen family. On Wednesday, I will be showing you some of the different types of work he produced, looking in particular at examples of his varied artwork including drawings, miniatures, oil paintings and pastels.

Ozias Humphry was born in Honiton, Devon, on 8 September 1742. He was the son of a wig-maker and lace-maker. In 1757, Humphry studied drawing in London, lodging with a Mrs. Baker in Cannon Street and joined John Smart, Richard Cosway and Richard Crosse, who were also training at Shipley’s Art school, which at that time was in St. Martin's Lane. He also worked in the Duke of Richmond's gallery in Privy Gardens, and studied under Pars in Beaufort Buildings, Strand. Following the death of his father in 1759, Humphry was apprenticed to the miniature painter Samuel Collins in Bath, where he lodged with Thomas Linley, the musician and composer, becoming a great friend of his daughter, Elizabeth, who was then only a child. Unfortunately, it seems Collins ran up great debts, absconding to Ireland. Humphry had only completed two years of his three year apprenticeship, but the Mayor and Corporation of Bath helped to put an end to the engagement, setting him free from obligation. He met Joshua Reynolds whilst in Bath who encouraged him in the copying of his own work before persuading him to return to London. In 1763, Humphry set up in business as a miniature painter quickly establishing a large circle of clients.
After a riding accident in 1772, Humphry sustained some damage to his eyes and was finding the painting of miniatures increasingly difficult, which forced him to start working in a larger scale. He travelled out to Italy in 1773 with his great friend George Romney, staying first at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, where the Duke of Dorset commissioned several works from him.
Jane Austen's great-uncle Francis was a wealthy solicitor who lived at The Red House in Sevenoaks, acting as agent to the Duke of Dorset at Knole, and was also Clerk of the Peace for Kent.
From a book of watercolours, Ann Kearn's Sevenoaks, text by Patrick Harper, Foxprint, 1992.
Henry, Jane's brother recalled: All that I remember of him is, that he wore a wig like a Bishop, and a suit of light gray ditto, coat, vest and hose. In his picture over the chimney the coat and vest had a narrow gold lace edging, about half an inch broad, but in my day he had laid aside the gold edging, though he retained a perfect identity of colour, texture and make to his life's end - I think he was born in Anne's reign.
The picture that Henry is talking about is one of two that were painted by Ozias Humphry. One is still housed in The Red House, which is still a solicitor's office today, and the other can be seen in the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield. The Duke of Dorset commissioned the painting of Francis, and there is a letter from Francis to Ozias Humphry still in existence, written on 11th July, 1780, which expresses his delight and gratitude to the Duke. However, it seems likely that the Duke commissioned them only in order to please his agent, as he paid for them, but didn't ever collect them.
Jane Austen's great-uncle Francis Austen of Sevenoaks, Kent

Humphry spent four years in Italy visiting Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples, amongst other places. Upon his return to England in 1777, his failing eyesight meant that he started to work on life-sized oil paintings. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1779, and was a frequent exhibitor. Humphry struggled to earn enough money as a painter in London and hearing of the success of artists in India like Zoffany, he decided to travel there. He stayed in Calcutta, Benares, and Lucknow, visiting the courts of many Indian princes painting miniatures once again between 1785 and 1787, but returned home to London after achieving little success in 1788.

Francis Austen had always been generous to his nephew, George Austen, sponsoring his education and presenting him with the living of Deane to add to that of Steventon presented by the Knights. We know that Jane and Cassandra visited their great-uncle with their parents in the summer of 1788, and it is possible that sittings for portraits were arranged during this visit and executed shortly afterwards. I've included this picture of the 'Rice' Portrait because this is the earliest full-length image of the painting that we have. It appeared as a frontispiece engraving in a book, Jane Austen, her life and letters, written by descendants of the Austen family, William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh in 1913. As we shall see in the next blog post, validating Humphry's work is not always easy until you know what to look for, and the owner at that time, the Reverend Thomas Harding-Newman wrongly attributed the artist to Zoffany.

Humphry became a Royal Academician in 1791, and in 1792, was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King. Five years later, he went completely blind, the portraits of the Prince and Princess of Orange were the last he exhibited in 1797. Between 1799 and 1805 he lived at High Row, Knightsbridge, and the RA Archive has a quantity of his correspondence with fellow artists. Humphry knew William Blake and commissioned copies of some of his illustrated books. Humphry’s miniatures of Queen Charlotte (1766); Charlotte, Princess Royal(1769) and Maria, Duchess of Gloucester (1769) may be found in the Royal Collection. His pastels Joseph Strutt; Francis Haward (1794) and Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope (1796) may all be found in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Humphry died at Hampstead on 9 March 1810. In 1918 George C Williamson published his memoir The Life and Work of Ozias Humphry, RA.
I hope to see you all again on Wednesday with more of this fascinating history!