On the Block! ~ A Jane Austen Portrait?

Christie’s Sale 8021:  Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts
8 June 2011
London, King Street 

[Jane Austen? by James Stanier Clarke]

James Stanier Clarke’s Friendship Book will be auctioned off tomorrow, June 8, 2011 at Christie’s London.  Clarke was the Prince Regent’s librarian at Carlton House – he famously invited Jane Austen to visit, requested her to dedicate her next book to the Prince [Emma], and carried on a lively correspondence with Austen – thankfully these letters survive to give us a rare insight into Austen’s own view of her talents.

This collection of Clarke’s watercolors is of interest to Jane Austen followers because it includes the portrait of a young woman, purportedly Jane Austen, as based on the research of Richard Wheeler [see: Richard James Wheeler,  James Stanier Clarke: His Watercolour Portrait of Jane Austen Painted 13th November 1815 in his “Friendship Book.” Kent: Codex, 1998]. 

There remain questions that this is indeed Austen – as there are only two known portraits, the small sketch by Cassandra in the National Portrait Gallery that all other “imaginary” portraits have been modeled on (and which family members said was not nearly a good likeness of her), and the second watercolor, also by Cassandra, offers us only a rear view – we are left with wanting more – what did she look like?!  

To get a great overview of the study of this possible Jane Austen image, please read this article by former JASNA President and Austen scholar Professor Joan Ray in Persuasions 27 (2005 ) [and co-authored by Richard James Wheeler]  – you can find it here in a pdf file: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number27/ray-clarke.pdf

Read below from the Christie’s Auction Catalogue  for the description of the other watercolors in Clarke’s book.  The Austen portrait however is the main selling feature, and the catalogue does tell the tale of Austen’s famed visit to Clarke at Carlton House on November 13, 1815.*

James Stanier CLARKE (?1765-1834). Album amicorum, 1791-1804 and n.d., comprising approx 47 drawings and watercolours of portraits, figures, landscapes, maritime scenes and other subjects, including (f.53) a watercolour portrait of an elegantly-attired young woman bearing a muff which has been identified as a PORTRAIT OF JANE AUSTEN (perhaps executed by Clarke himself on the occasion of their meeting, 13 November 1815), as well as contributions by George ROMNEY (the temple of Fame atop a mountain, with a 5-line verse, 2 July 1792), John FLAXMAN (unsigned, a wash drawing of a seated young woman and two children), John RUSSELL (‘A telescopic appearance of the southern limbs of the Moon on the 7th of August 1787’, the inscription dated 1796), William HODGES (wash drawing and verse, 1794), an anonymous portrait of the future Queen Caroline, possibly by Clarke himself (as chaplain on the Jupiter on which she sailed to England in March/April 1795), and 12 sketches closely related to Nicholas Pocock’s illustrations for Clarke’s 1804 edition of William Falconer’s The Shipwreck: A Poem, together with 16 silhouettes and an engraving; and manuscript contributions including by William COWPER (‘I were indeed indifferent to fame Grudging two lines t’immortalize my name’, Weston-Underwood, 28 October 1793), William Hayley (1792), Johann Kaspar Lavater (1792), Charlotte Smith (1793), Anna Seward (poem to Clarke, 12 lines) and Thomas Masterman Hardy (‘late Capt of the Mutine’).

Physical description: Approx 47 inscriptions and 12 cut signatures, 109 leaves, oblong 8vo (99 x 157mm), (some leaves weak at inner margin), green morocco gilt, lettered on spine ‘Sacred to Friendship J.S.C.’; remains of marbled-paper slipcase.

Provenance: Richard Wheeler — by descent to the present owner. Perhaps the best-known incident in the life of James Stanier Clarke took place on 13 November 1815, when, as chaplain and librarian to the Prince Regent, he showed Jane Austen around Carlton House: it was he who passed on the proposal that resulted in Emma being dedicated to the Prince, and who famously suggested, in their ensuing correspondence, that Austen devote future efforts either to a portrait of ‘an English Clergyman … of the present day’ or to a ‘Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg’. Richard Wheeler, in James Stanier Clarke, His Watercolour Portrait of Jane Austen (1998), makes a forceful case, based in particular on comparison of facial measurements with other Austen portraits and on dress, for the identification of the portrait in the present album with the novelist. The other entries in the album are marked by a close early association of Clarke with the circle of the poet and biographer William Hayley at his estate at Eartham in Sussex; by a tour to Germany and Switzerland in 1792; and by his association with the navy which was to colour his life from 1795 onwards, even after his appointment as domestic chaplain to the future George IV and, from 1805, librarian of Carlton House.

Estimate:  £30,000 – £50,000  ($49,260 – $82,100) 


Alas! – once again outside my range! – one wonders what will happen – the 2007  auction of  the Rice portrait, another hoped-for likeness of Austen, did not fare so well – it did not sell…

 [The Rice Portrait ~ Jane Austen?]

Further Reading:

*1.  read more about this visit to Carlton House here: https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/a-visit-to-carlton-house-november-13-1815/

2. and here at Austenonly:  http://austenonly.com/2009/11/20/jane-austen-and-londona-visit-to-carlton-house/

3.  Chris Viveash.  James Stanier Clarke: Librarian to the Prince Regent, Naval Author, Friend of Jane Austen.  Winchester: Privately Printed / Sarsen Press, 2006.

[Image:  James Stanier Clarke, courtesy of Austenonly]

Copyright @2011 by Deb Barnum, of Jane Austen in Vermont 

5 thoughts on “On the Block! ~ A Jane Austen Portrait?

  1. Pingback: On the Block! ~ A Jane Austen Portrait? (via Jane Austen in Vermont) « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

  2. Pingback: Hoy, 8 de Junio de 2011, subasta en Christie’s de retrato de Jane Austen « Hablando de Jane

  3. Pingback: Is this the face I’ve been seeking: Paula Bryne’s miniature redux « Reveries Under the Sign of Austen, Two

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