Once again the Janeite world (and the Muggle press that insists on blowing these things all out of proportion) are creating a controversy out of nothing over images of Jane Austen.

Sotheby’s is auctioning a fake portrait of Jane Austen next month. As fake portraits go, this one is probably slightly less fake than some others. It was commissioned by James Edward Austen-Leigh to be used to create an engraving as a frontispiece to Austen-Leigh’s 1869 Memoir of his aunt. The painting was done by James Andrews of Maidenhead by tracing Cassandra Austen’s watercolor portrait of her sister. The engraving was later used as the basis of perhaps the best-known image of Austen, the infamous “wedding ring portrait” included in a book of eminent persons.

There has been some concern expressed by our own correspondents over this sale, as it is feared it will share the near-fate of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring, purchased and taken out of the country rather than added to a public collection; it would probably be nearly impossible to mount a second rescue mission by Janeites and the museum at Chawton as was done for the ring. However, we find it difficult to get very upset about the fate of this portrait. It is a nice little painting, and that’s it. It wasn’t taken from life, thought it was traced from a portrait that was so taken. However, in the dearth of such images taken from life, Janeites have created new icons of our favorite author. The painting certainly deserves to be part of a museum collection dedicated to Austen. It is to be hoped that whoever purchases it can preserve and display it for all to enjoy.

This portrait has been in the news lately in other ways, as the engraving created from it was used as the basis for the image of Austen that will appear on the British ten-pound bill in a couple of years. Biographer Paula Byrne has been all over the press of late complaining about the portrait chosen for the banknote. Prof. Byrne has previously been recorded as quite passionate on the subject of images of Austen. She feels that the portrait makes Jane appear “saccharine” and that it is an “airbrushing” of Cassandra’s original portrait, and perpetuates Austen’s family’s whitewashing of her personality. We understand Prof. Byrne’s passion on the subject, though most Austen fans, scholars, and attentive readers know better than to consider Jane Austen a sweet, retiring spinster. However, we think that the portrait was chosen for a very simple reason: it is in the public domain. Cassandra’s portrait is owned by the National Portrait Gallery and it cannot be used without its permission, and probably without paying a hefty licensing fee.

All that being said–yes, let’s pick a different Austen quotation for the banknote! We still think the best one would be “I write only for Fame and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” However, the Muggle public would probably not recognize Austen’s delightful snark.

Check out our previous post, A Closer Look at Images of Jane Austen.

Fan art might not be fan art, but it’s hard to tell


Fan painting of Jane Austen

Copyright claimed by Paula Byrne

A while back, we shared a link to an auction of what we teasingly referred to as “fan art,” a portrait of Jane Austen thought to have been executed by a dedicated reader who liked to draw photos of how he imagined his favorite authors to look. At the time, we added a copy of the photo of the portrait (which you can see at left–click for the larger size) that we took from the auction site.

A few days after the auction, we received a request from someone claiming to represent the buyer. He said the buyer now owned the copyright, and asked us to remove the photo. He also promised that the image was being investigated and we would receive information about it when it became available. We disagree with the claim of copyright, which was owned by the photographer of the portrait, not the owner of the portrait; however, we don’t own the copyright either way, and he asked nicely, and we didn’t care enough about the image to fight it, so we took it down, asked to be updated when the time came, and forgot about it.

Yesterday, we received an e-mail saying we could post the photo again, with a press release about a program(me) to be aired on BBC Two, meaning we won’t be able to see it legally, which gives zero information about the actual portrait other than the usual tiresome claims about THIS IS THE ONLY REAL PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN EXCEPT FOR THAT UGLY TIRED LITTLE THING IN THE NPG THAT DOESN’T COUNT. It all sounds very interesting, but it does us zero good as far as actually learning anything new. It just tells us to watch the TV program(me) that will be broadcast on another continent if we want to know more. We’re feeling a little used here, Gentle Readers. But we present the information, because that is our job, and we think it will be this week’s Wonder Story About Jane Austen. See our previous post about images of Jane Austen. Full press release after the jump. Continue reading