My Favourite Portrait by Rebecca Harris

Rebecca Harris


Taken from the Gallery Supporters’ Magazine, Face to Face
Issue 10, [Autumn 2004]
© National Portrait Gallery, London

I adore the delicate chalk drawing of Jane Franklin, displayed in the Off the Beaten Track exhibition (until 31 October). It oozes with the subject’s adventurous personality. With her petticoat twitching with a passion for travel it’s a wonder the artist, Amélie Romilly, managed to persuade Jane to sit still for her sketch. There’s a wonderful informality about the way Jane’s open striped coat just touches her shoulders – as if she is on her way out or has just come back from somewhere. Where might that somewhere be? As the first woman to ascend Mount Wellington, travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney and visit other far-off corners of the globe, it could
be anywhere.

In her face, the complexities of Jane’s character are beautifully portrayed. Her hair parting may be straight but a few wayward curls hint at the unruly side of her nature. A slight smile crossing her lips belies an attractive mischievousness. But her eyes, full of light, intelligence and determination, help us understand how this woman, once described in a pink dress as a ‘strawberry cream fit to be eaten’, came to launch polar exploration. Jane’s eleven-year search for her missing husband’s Arctic expedition of 1845 advanced our understanding of the area by decades and won her the Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Medal in 1860. This drawing may be small, but for me its impact was large. It inspired me to lead an Arctic journey in Jane’s memory. Her feminine portrait is a reminder of what determination can achieve against the odds.

Rebecca Harris

Rebecca, who bought her first pair of walking boots in 2001, is one of the present-day
generation of women travellers. She was selected as Base Camp Manager for her first expedition – the Shackleton Memorial Expedition, Antarctica. Two years on, she organised her own Arctic adventure and sledged 200 miles with seven men in memory of her Polar heroine, Jane Franklin.

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