- Extended Catalogue Entry
by Cassandra Austen
pencil and watercolour, circa 1810
4 1/2 in. x 3 1/8 in. (114 mm x 80 mm)
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries, 1948
This portraitback to top
This frank sketch by her sister and closest confidante Cassandra is the only reasonably certain portrait from life to show Austen’s face. It is the basis for a late nineteenth-century engraving, commissioned by Austen's nephew, which is reproduced on the ten pound bank note.
Linked publicationsback to top
- I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 29
- 100 Portraits, p. 59
- Audio Guide
- 100 Writers, p. 2, 50
- 100 Pioneering Women, p. 46 Read entry
An unknown country novelist and vicar’s daughter, whose name first appeared on her novels after her death, Jane Austen (1775-1817) earned scarcely £650 from her books during her lifetime. But, two centuries on, her six great novels, from Sense and Sensibility (1811) to Persuasion (1817), have proved classic texts, required reading on English literature courses, reprinted and translated, retold and reinvented, for the big and small screen. Originally published anonymously, as ‘A Lady’, Austen is now famous worldwide as a pioneering fiction writer. Her early work satirised the social life and literature of her era. Virginia Woolf believed that if Austen had lived longer and written more, ‘She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust.’ In Emma (1815), some argue, she is. This likeness, sketched by her sister Cassandra, is thought to be the only portrait of the writer made from life.
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 33 Read entry
Jane's niece Caroline Austen said: 'though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasing countenance it is so far a truth.' Not a convincing affirmation, but it is the only confirmed authentic portrait of Jane.
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 67
- Eger, Elizabeth; Peltz, Lucy, Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings, 2008 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 March to 15 June 2008), p. 135 Read entry
This frank portrait of Jane Austen by her sister and closest confidante, Cassandra, is the only reasonably certain image of the author taken from life.
- Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 118
- Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 98
- Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 75
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 67 Read entry
This slight unfinished sketch by her sister is the only reasonably certain portrait of Jane Austen. It has become, faute de mieux, the face of Jane throughout the reading world. Her niece Caroline Austen wrote: ‘ ... there is a look which I recognise as hers - and though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasing countenance it is so far a truth.’
- Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 11
- Ross, Josephine, Jane Austen and her World, 2017, p. 4
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 108
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 108 Read entry
When Jane Austen's brother Henry was asked to provide a 'Memoir of Miss Austen' for a new edition of Sense and Sensibility published in 1833, he wrote, 'So retired, unmarked by contemporary notoriety was the life Miss Austen led, that if any likeness were ever taken of her, none was ever engraved.' Presumably he thought that this drawing of her by her sister Cassandra was insufficiently substantial to merit publication. However, it was engraved for a Memoir by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, published in 1870. Ever since it has been regarded as the most (and possibly the only) authentic likeness. It was acquired by the Gallery in 1958 from a sale of manuscripts at Sotheby's, when it was described as a 'Pencil Sketch ... the face and hair in water-colours, of JANE AUSTEN, in a blue wrapper inscribed "Cassandra's sketch of Jane, from which a picture was drawn by Mr Andrews of Maidenhead to be engraved for the Memoir".' It is an unsophisticated but nonetheless highly expressive image of an intense and determined woman, described by her nephew as having 'full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, light hazel eyes and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face'.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 24
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 125 Read entry
This frank sketch depicts Jane Austen, one of Britain’s greatest and best-loved novelists. It is the only certain portrait from life and was made by her sister Cassandra (1773–1845), her closest confidante.
The daughter of a rector, Austen was brought up in a close-knit family and began to write when young. Some of her earliest works were plays that were performed by members of the family. In 1796 she started work on what would become her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. Originally written under the title ‘First Impressions’, it was the first of her novels to be completed. Austen wrote with wit and irony, drawing on her own observations of genteel social relations, courtship and the position of women during the Regency. Austen’s father tried to submit the manuscript to a publisher but without success. It was not until 1812 that Austen’s brother Henry finally helped to negotiate the publication of Sense and Sensibility. It was swiftly followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), which was an immediate success. These works marked the most fruitful period of Austen’s career but her success was short-lived. In 1816 she became sick with a progressive illness and died in 1817.
- Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 95 Read entry
The author of Farmer's Boy and the creator of the sharp heroines of Pride and Prejudice and Emma may appear unlikely companions; and perhaps from a technical viewpoint this portrait of 'the beloved Jane' should not be included in a collection of miniatures, though the pencilled oval surround suggests that a miniature may have been Cassandra's intention. But Jane is, of course, irresistible, and the Gallery seized the chance to buy the portrait when it appeared on sale at Sotheby's in 1948. There are only two other portraits of her (identified with any certainty): a silhouette inscribed 'L'aimable Jane', also in the Gallery, and another watercolour drawing by her sister Cassandra, dated 1804 and showing Jane's backview, 'sitting down outdoors on a hot day, with her bonnet strings untied', and still in the family collection. NPG 3630 was engraved for the Memoir (1870). A niece commented: 'It is a very pleasing sweet face - tho' I confess to not thinking it much like the original' (letter from Cassandra Elizabeth Austen, 18 December 1869).
- Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 16
- Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 69
Events of 1810back to top
Current affairsSerious 'Burdett and Liberty' riots break out in London in support of radical MP Sir Francis Burdett who had been arrested for denouncing the House of Common's decision to bar journalists from some debates.
Princess Amelia dies triggering renewed bout of illness in her father, George III.
Art and scienceSir Walter Scott publishes his chivalrous, medieval ballad, The Lady of the Lake, set on Loch Katrine in Perthshire.
Kennett and Avon Trunk Canal is completed.
First Savings Bank is set up by financier Henry Duncan.
InternationalMadame De Stael writes De l'Allemagne which portrays Germany as a model of Romantic nationalism for emerging revolutionary nations. It was banned by Napoleon but published in London to great acclaim.
Lisbon besieged. Wellington takes shelter behind the fortified lines of the Torres Vedras and the French army are forced to retreat.
Listen to a series of podcasts exploring the lives of pioneering women, past and present.
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Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.