World Book Day will see Bodleian Library in Oxford display ‘new’ Jane Austen portrait and sampler – for one day only
Jane Austen as pictured in the portrait discovered by Dr Paula Byrne.
A newly discovered portrait claimed to be of Jane Austen, and a sampler worked in slightly wonky stitches by the author as a girl, will go on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford for just one day to celebrate World Book Day on Thursday.
The claim that the pencil drawing of a beaky nosed woman was the first genuine portrait of Austen as an adult author made international headlines late last year. The picture was given to Dr Paula Byrne, author of a new book on Austen, by her husband – and apart from the inscription on the back reading “Miss Jane Austin”, Byrne said she immediately recognised “the striking family resemblance”, particularly the long, straight Austen nose.
The only authenticated portrait of Austen is a charming if amateurish watercolour sketch by her sister Cassandra, which was then adapted as an even more sentimental portrait when her novels were published.
The portrait was the subject of a BBC documentary and the attribution has been passionately debated by Austen scholars – and Richard Ovenden, deputy librarian at the Bodleian, expects it and the sampler to provoke a lot more debate among visitors to the library.
The sampler is being loaned for the day by another private collector.
The sampler is a prayer, signed Jane Austen 1787 – the stitching is frayed so that it now appears to read 1797 – and was worked when she was about 11. A note on the back says an early owner was related to Austen and given it as a memento.
Austen created an equally uncertain young needlewoman in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney says to Catherine Morland that he has had time to read more novels: “I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!” Catherine responds ruefully: “Not very good I am afraid.”
• Jane Austen Revealed, free at the Bodleian, Oxford, Thursday 1 March