After lackluster bidding for two and a fraction minutes by two in-room bidders–which started at $280,000 and reached $350,000–the portrait was withdrawn, clearly having failed to meet its reserve price. Christie’s had estimated the sale at $400,000 to $800,000.
Before the sale, Alert Janeite Lisa let us know that the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” had a short piece by Angus Stewart, British president of the International Association of Art Critics, who is convinced that the portrait is one of Jane Austen.
The Rice Portrait shows us what we sense, that young Jane Austen had a turbulent spirit. Her juvenilia, including the History of England, are evidence of an intelligent adventurer who was to shrug off any harness. And the portrait shows nothing of the prim and the proper, but much that conveys the immediate hunger of a girl smouldering for life.
We look at the sweet young lady in the portrait and get none of that, really. But to each his own. We also like the comment from “LawrenceUS” in response to the piece:
There are no references to the painting in any letters or documents from around 1790, when the painting supposedly was done. There are no references to it in any letters or documents in the years leading to 1831, during which period second cousin Col. Thomas Austen supposedly gave the painting away. There are no records or mentions until the 1880s, when someone says, Oh! I have a painting of Jane Austen that Col. Austen gave my stepmother!
NPR also had a piece this morning (which we somehow missed–hangover from Downy high, we suppose) in which Clive James and the reporter said, among other things, that many considered the girl in the portrait “too pretty” to be Jane Austen; after all, if Jane Austen had been pretty, she would have gotten married! Which is crazy, considering Jane pretty much actively chose to not marry. Mr. James said “I think the sensible consensus is that it isn’t her, but is a nice picture.” We agree. It’s a lovely portrait.