For those unfamiliar with the Rice portrait, it is a painting that for many years was considered a portrait of Jane Austen as a tween, painted by Johan Zoffany. Eventually some nasty critical suspicious people began making inquiries as to the provenance of the portrait. Upon examination, it was found to not have been painted by Zoffany but by Ozias Humphry. It was further suggested that the portrait, judging by the subject’s clothing, was painted when Jane Austen was about 30 years old–much older than the sweet tween in the portrait.
We have seen some articles and images around the Janeite blogosphere about this painting of a family group that was auctioned as part of the Godmersham estate, once owned by Edward Austen, in 1983. The Rice family, who seems determined to prove the provenance of the portrait they own that might or might not be of Jane Austen, is trying to track down the painting, hoping it can add to the history being constructed around the so-called Rice portrait.
Sold in June 1983 for just £172, Jane Austen fanatics are keen to solve the riddle of the mystery buyer.
Anne Rice, owner of The Rice Portrait by Humphry showing a 14-year-old Austen, came across Conversation Piece while researching her own family’s collection.
She said: “Whoever bought it in 1983, probably did so without even knowing who was in it, which is why it went for such a cut price.
“Very little detail was handed over to Christie’s about what had been left in Godmersham Park by the former owner Elsie Tritton.
“She and her husband Robert bought the estate in 1936 and collected all kinds of stuff, but everything inside there went within three days.”
We suspect that fanatical Janeites would be sold for a MUCH higher price. *ahem* (And thanks to Alert Janeite A. Marie for pointing out that precariously dangling participle!)