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Professor Claudia L. Johnson on the Rice Portrait in the Times Literary Supplement

Jane Austen to the Life?

At last I can tell you all about the very latest evidence on the Rice Portrait!
Recently published in the Times Literary Supplement is an excellent article by Professor Claudia L. Johnson on the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen. As she states ... it would now seem that there is decisive evidence that the “Rice Portrait” of Jane Austen (seen here in a photograph from 1910) is indeed an authentic likeness of the novelist, made in her lifetime. This evidence consists of the three lines of script in the upper right-hand corner, in the area outlined in yellow. First, the artist’s signature: Ozia[s] Humphry, R.A. Second, the date of the portrait: 178* (that last digit is probably a nine). And third, the name of the sitter: Jane Austen.

The image produced by the Emery Walker negative from 1910
Professor Johnson highlights some of the debates that have ensued over the years, but continues:
We would still be at an impasse were it not for a singular stroke of luck. In 1910, Sir Ernest Rice, then owner of the portrait, hired the prominent engraver, printer and photographer Emery Walker to photograph the Rice Portrait at the request of his cousins William and R. W. Austen-Leigh, who would use it as the frontispiece to their biography. This photograph, which seems unremarkable, not to mention a bit unfocused, is thus extremely valuable in preserving an image of the portrait as it existed before its twentieth-century cleanings. The original glass plate negatives of Walker’s photograph are in the Heinz Archive of the National Portrait Gallery, listed under the title “Unknown girl formerly known as Jane Austen”. Last year, the Heinz supplied an adequately high resolution digital scan of these negatives to Acumé Forensics, a firm in Leeds specializing in, among other things, the analysis of digital images for evidentiary purposes in courts of law. The images printed here are reproduced from Acume’s report.

I hope you will read Professor Johnson's article - click here to read in full.

I am delighted to have been given permission to show you the Acume Forensics report which has been copied below. I'm sure you'll find the accompanying images fascinating!

Acume Forensics Ltd

Examination and Improvement Emery Walker Negatives 1910 

21st July 2012 Instruction
I was instructed by  - - -  to examine a digital scan of a photographic plate produced by Emma Cavalier of the National Portrait Gallery, London. A copy of this scan has been subject to certain documented improvements conducted by an amateur which allegedly revealed a signature attributed to Ozias Humphry. I was asked to conduct both an assessment of the work previously conducted and also to conduct my own independent examination and improvement of the scanned image.
Review Procedure
The image under review is in its original form a glass negative which is documented as being produced by Emery Walker (photographer) in 1910, and held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. (NPG).
In order to conduct a forensic examination of this scanned image its provenance must first be established, to facilitate this first stage an original uncompressed scan was requested from NPG, the supplied scan was verified as original and unaltered using the files digital metadata, this is data generated when any digital image is produced.
In this instance I was able to confirm the supplied image Z1170_EW1009-3_A1_size.tif was produced on the 5th May 2012 at 17:37hrs using an Epson Perfection V700 scanner. The negative was scanned at a resolution of 11906 pixels by 7835 pixels at 360 pixels per inch and saved as a lossless .tif file. The date and time are recorded from the computer attached to the scanner/camera and as such cannot be relied upon in isolation. However in this case the time of production is immaterial.
The recording resolution used for this scan is much higher than the resolving capabilities of the original negative, this high resolution capture ensures no recorded information is lost and is regarded as good practice for this type of photographic imaging.

The scan reveals the limitation of the original camera used in 1910, with the image being both unevenly exposed showing a lack of detail in the highlights and shadows due to over exposure or over development. `The image is also slightly out of focus with no point of sharp focus across the whole image. 
However on review the image does show some clear and legible written characters visible prior to any improvement. 
The area of the image allegedly containing the disputed signature had previously been identified, this area alone was subject to visual improvement. A blanket adjustment was used to ensure that no pixels were over treated, over treatment can result in pixels being adjusted to artificially to either contain no information (256) or be completely black (0). In this case this could inadvertently introduce extensions to characters not actually present on the original image.
Images showing the highlighted signature, date and subject
A custom adjustment curve was applied to the key area both as a negative and positive image, an unsharp mask was also applied at a very low level to improve edge definition (contrast). 

Acume Forensics Ltd
After improvement the signature(s) are clearly visible, a simple visual comparison chart was produced using a high provenance image of Ozias Humphry’s signature in ink from 1786. 

There are signatures recorded on the Emery Walker negatives. Which I read as - Ozia RA_ _ _ _ Humphry
Jane Austen _7
Ozia Humphry RA178_
Dashes show an illegible character.

Addendum September 30th 2012
After further review I have produced a further set of improved images using a high pass filter, this has further improved contrast between the signatures and the background. 

Stephen Cole Technical Director
Acume Forensics 21st July 2012

If you'd like to read more on the history and provenance of the Rice Portrait - please visit The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen website