Pictures of Jane Austen

What an exquisite possession a good picture of her would be! I would give any money for it.

Top Row, left to right: the “Rice portrait,” watercolor by Cassandra Austen, pencil/watercolor by Cassandra Austen, silhouette by unknown artist
Bottom Row, left to right: pencil/watercolor by James Stanier Clarke, the “Byrne portrait,” watercolor by James Andrews, engraving based on Andrews’s watercolor

Readers of Jane Austen have long wished for a good picture of their favorite author.  Borrowing the words of Emma Woodhouse concerning a likeness of Harriet Smith, Austen admirers might well “give any money” for such a portrait.  The only authenticated picture of Austen is a small pencil and watercolor sketch made by her sister, Cassandra, which is displayed in low light and protected by a cover in the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Cassandra also painted a watercolor of Austen in a blue dress with her face hidden by a bonnet.  Both pictures are shown above, along with other possible images of the author.

Austen’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh commissioned a watercolor by James Andrews, based on Cassandra’s drawing, to illustrate A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1870.  The Memoir included an engraving of Andrews’s watercolor, which is often reproduced as Jane Austen’s portrait.  In recent years other depictions have been advanced as portraits, with each candidate attracting both passionate advocates and doubting critics.

Collected here are essays and articles from JASNA publications examining these possible portraits of Jane Austen.  Readers longing for a “good picture” may judge for themselves whether one has finally been found.

Reading About Pictures of Jane Austen

“‘There She is At Last’: The Byrne Portrait Controversy” by Deborah Kaplan.  Persuasions 34 (2012): 121-33.

“Visualizing Jane Austen and Jane Austen Visualizing” by Jeffrey Nigro.  Persuasions On-Line 29.1 (Win. 2008).

“Christie’s Auction of the Controversial Rice Portrait of Jane Austen” by Elsa Solender.  JASNA website, Apr. 2007.

“James Stanier Clarke’s Portrait of Jane Austen” by Joan Klingel Ray and Richard James Wheeler.  Persuasions 27 (2005): 112-18.

“Portraits of Jane Austen” by Helen C. Denman.  Persuasions 3 (1981): 12-13.

There was merit in every drawing-in the least finished, perhaps the most.