The Rice portrait
The Rice portrait is believed by the owners and others to be of Jane Austen and painted by Ozias Humphry in 1788 or 1789 when Austen was 13. Experts at the National Portrait Gallery (and elsewhere) have disputed this, suggesting that the painting dates to the early 19th century and thus cannot be of Austen, or painted by Humphry.
The Rice portrait is believed by many to have been painted by Ozias Humphry in 1788/89 when Austen was 13. The owners believe it was commissioned by Austen's great-uncle, Francis Austen, during a visit. The portrait was originally mistakenly attributed to Johann Zoffany but is now believed by its supporters to have been painted by Ozias Humphry. It is now known that Francis Austen knew Humphry and the artist had painted a portrait of Francis Austen in 1780 which is now in the Graves Gallery, Sheffield. Ozias Humphry's brother William Humphry was the vicar of Kemsing and Seal close to Francis Austen's home in Sevenoaks and a neighbour of the step-brother of Jane Austen's father.
In 1884 the portrait was used as an illustration in a collected edition of her letters published by Lord Brabourne, a relative of Jane Austen. It was used again by another relative, Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, in her book about Austen published in 1920. It was photographed by Emery Walker in about 1910. The National Portrait Gallery, London attempted to purchase the work in the 1930s but were unable to buy it. In 1948, the Austen scholar, R. W. Chapman, rejected the identity of the sitter based on costume evidence, although he was not himself a costume expert. This was at around the same time as the National Portrait Gallery purchased the small sketch of Jane Austen which they claim was painted by Austen's sister Cassandra. There was therefore a potential conflict of interest. In 1994, the portrait was exhibited at Olympia. Henry Rice, the then owner, offered it to the National Portrait Gallery, but they were unwilling to buy it. The portrait was given an export licence on the advice of the National Portrait Gallery on the basis that it was not of Austen. It was put up for auction at Christie's in New York in 2007, but failed to sell. According to the owners of the Rice Portrait, the National Portrait Gallery wrote an unsolicited email to the auctioneer prior to the sale, questioning the portrait's authenticity.
The most significant evidence for the authenticity of the portrait is its provenance. It is known to have passed from Thomas Austen (grandson of Francis Austen) to a friend, Elizabeth Harding-Newman, in 1818, the year after Austen died. She may have met Jane Austen as her aunt was married to a friend of the novelist. It was described as "the novelist, Jane". The portrait was inherited by Elizabeth Harding-Newman's stepson and then given to the Rev. John Morland Rice, Jane Austen's great-nephew. It then descended through the Rice family to its present owner.
The style of the costume has been advanced as an argument against the identification with Austen (although the dispute centres on a difference of only 12 years). In 1948, R. W. Chapman challenged the portrait's authenticity on costume grounds. At that time, costume historians believed that the high waist and sash is a style that did not become popular in England until around 1805 (when Austen was 30 and Humphry had gone blind and was no longer painting). However, proponents of the Austen identification argue that the experts were mistaken in looking at adult clothing, and believe they should instead have studied children's costume of the late eighteenth century. There are examples of both adult and children's clothing before 1800 which display the same high waist, narrow sash and puff sleeves.
The ability to date costume sufficiently accurately is disputed by other costume historians (such as Claudia Johnson of Princeton University). Lilian and Ted Williams argue that there are English examples of this costume style from the 1780s and 1790s, though some of the examples shown on the website dedicated to the Rice portrait are in paintings that are themselves of disputed or indeterminate date. It has also been pointed out that the Austen family had connections with France, where this fashion appears earlier than it does in England.
In 2012, research and forensic work was undertaken using digital analysis of photograph negatives from 1910 held in the Heinz Archive & Library taken prior to a later poor cleaning and over-painting of the portrait. This digital enhancement is said to show that the signature of Ozias Humphry, and the name Jane Austen is visible on the photograph. These inscriptions were apparently lost when the painting was over-zealously restored. This research work was validated by the English-based company Acume Forensics.
The restorer who spent many months working on the portrait identified a separate monogram of Ozias Humphry on the picture. A report was sent to the National Portrait Gallery, who filed it without comment.
Jacob Simon of the National Portrait Gallery pointed out that the inscriptions were not noticeable in the Walker photograph, nor when the portrait was photographed prior to cleaning in 1985.