Recently discovered evidence suggests that a long-disputed oil painting might show British novelist Jane Austen as a teenager, according to a report in the Guardian last week.
Digital analysis of photos taken of the painting in 1910 (before the portrait’s multiple restorations) seems to have revealed the novelist’s name, the name of the artist, and the year 1789, when Austen was 13 years old.
"To have all these words revealed on the canvas is very, very strong," art critic Angus Stewart told the Guardian.
"I think you'd be flying in the face of reason to deny this," Stewart said.
The painting is owned by the Rice family, who claim that artist Ozias Humphry painted the 13-year-old Austen on a visit to her great uncle Francis in Kent in 1789. But skeptics have argued that the young girl’s dress--full sleeves and high waistline--seem anachronistic to the painting’s supposed date of creation.
Only two amateur portraits of Austen, the writer of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility,” have ever been verified--a sketch by her sister Cassandra and a later adaptation of that sketch by her nephew. If it’s real, this portrait of a young girl in a white dress holding a green umbrella would be the only professional likeness of Jane Austen.
Another disputed portrait came to light last year, when scholar Paula Byrne claimed that a sketch of a large-nosed woman sitting by a window was Jane Austen in her prime.
Though very little is known about Austen, who died in 1817, her work has inspired countless films, sequels and adaptations.
In an age when Jane Austen has sizable pop cultural heft, from BBC miniseries to zombified adaptations, the New Yorker’s Andrea DenHoed writes that any verified visualization of Jane Austen is welcome.
“Of all writers, she is one that we would like to visualize accurately,” DenHoed says, “in the half-belief that if we could just get a good look at her, we would be able to see something more of her world.”