Archive for the ‘Francis Austen of Sevenoaks’ Category

In the first of a new series of blog posts, I’d like to welcome Mrs. Henry Rice who is going to be telling us all about the provenance of the ‘Rice’ Portrait of Jane Austen. Written in her own words is her account taken from letters and documents which her husband Henry Rice collated over many years. I’m sure you will enjoy reading this fascinating insight as much as I have!

The Rice Portrait Provenance – Its Owners by Mrs. Henry Rice

Great Uncle Francis

This story, and the portrait of Jane Austen started in the summer of 1788 when George Austen took his wife, and his two young daughters, Cassandra aged 15, and Jane aged not quite 13 years old to visit their Great Uncle Francis Austen at his home called The Red House in Sevenoaks, Kent. Francis Austen was an enormously rich and successful man, he had been head of Lincoln’s Inn in London, and owned properties in Essex, as well as in Kent. He was an expert in the settling, and safeguarding of large estates by entail, and by inheritance, and counted some of the most important families in England amongst his clients; the Dorsets, the Berkeleys, and Cravens, amongst others.
In 1788, he was 90 years old, having been born in 1698 in the reign of Queen Anne. His second wife Jane had been Jane Austen’s godmother, but was now dead, and Francis was indulging himself in his old age as a benevolent family patriarch. Ozias Humphry, much patronised by Francis’s main employer and patron, the Duke of Dorset had already painted him at the Duke’s request once, and at his own once again for The Red House.
Francis had always been a kind and generous patron of his nephew George Austen. It is hardly surprising that he was persuaded, or perhaps cajoled, into commissioning the portraits of his two great nieces from his friend Ozias, who was rather down on his luck at the time having returned from India in the spring of 1788, with little success and somewhat short of money. Ozias always demanded half his fee for his portraits ‘up front’, his accounts show that he charged about 13 guineas first, and the second half on completion. He made a note of Francis Austen’s death in 1791, which implies money owing to him.

Edward Austen
Jane Austen, the ‘Rice Portrait’

The family has always believed that after the portraits of Cassandra and Jane were commissioned in the summer of 1788, Ozias Humphry stayed at Godmersham Park that autumn, and there executed sketches and drawings of the backgrounds in the park. On the 7th October that year Edward Austen-Knight was 21 years old, and again family tradition has it that he returned from the first leg of his Grand Tour for his Coming of Age celebrations with his adoptive parents. His own portrait, also signed OH, places him within the Godmersham grounds in front of a large English oak tree,  the old temple ruins in the background, and also graves from Godmersham churchyard.
Jane’s background includes the river Stour that flows to the left of the big house, and in both pictures the same autumnal colours are used, as well as the depiction of stormy skies. It’s interesting to note the stance in both of the portraits, the angles of the cane and the parasol are almost identical. Ozias having been trained as a miniaturist and a very fine one, had difficulty in many of his paintings in the execution of limbs painted in large. Note the elongation of Edward’s arm holding his hat, and Jane’s elongated arm holding the parasol.
As with much of the inherited Austen artefacts and documents, over time they were split amongst family members. The last descendant of the Kippington Austen line may well have owned the portrait of Cassandra. May Harrison lived out her final years in Grasse, France, and on November 28th 1952 she wrote to R.W. Chapman saying she owned by descent, a portrait which she believed could be Jane Austen. Mrs. Harrison’s nephew remembers her possessing a painting of a girl dressed in white, but it was not always hung as she rotated her pictures. No one seems to have considered that this could have been the portrait of Cassandra, but I shall be writing more about this story later on.
  As was the usual custom Ozias would have finished the portraits in his London studio, and kept them until he received payment for the second tranche of the paintings. Thomas Knight is believed to have commissioned Edward’s portrait, (Ozias certainly copied the Romney portrait of his wife Catherine Knight for him. It is a small oval miniature that he could carry with him.)
Uncle Francis died in 1791, and the two portraits were inherited by his eldest son, Francis Motley Austen, the second owner of the portrait.
Anne Rice June 2011

Next time, Mrs. Rice will be writing about Francis Motley Austen, the second owner of the portrait.


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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!

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