The Battle of the Portraits

Cassandra\'s original portraitThe 1870 revision

I am sure that there will never be agreement on this but, quite contrary to Cassandra’s portrait of Jane Austen (left) offending me, I am really quite attached to it and find the 1870 revision (right) quite dead. Further I find it a little amusing that Austen carpetbaggers feel a need to prettify Cassandra’s portrait given its subject’s extended assault on our propensities to get distracted by pretty surfaces at the expense of deeper truths.

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5 responses to “The Battle of the Portraits

  1. Hi Chris, so glad that you are chatting about one of my fav subjects, images of Jane Austen, which I have been studying and collecting for years. From the time of Cassandra’s portrait in 1810 until the 1869 professional portrait commissioned by her family, the image of JA belonged in the memory of her family and with the rustic little watercolour by her sister. So when they decided to do a make-over to accompany the Memoir published by her nephew, they opened the door to her popularity. I feel comfortable with this evolution since it began with the family.

    The image I find offensive, is the 1873 ‘wedding ring’ engraving. This shows Jane looking quite stern, and married! Whose idea was it to marry her off? Not her family, but a publisher of the book that it was commissioned for, who must have thought that it would soften her image and make her more appealing to the Victorian public. Only a guess, no evidence.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

  2. Having seen Cassandra’s small watercolour in the National Portrait Gallery, I much prefer the original.

  3. Thanks for recording your comments. You make an excellent point Luarell Ann, about the really distorted revisionist images, and that the 1869 variant is an important record, as the family felt that Cassandra’s portrait had only partially caught her likeness. Getting those who knew her to direct an artist to try and correct for this is incredibly valuable. This is a point I hadn’t fully appreciated before.

    Ms Place, as I said earlier, when I first say Cassandra’s original at the national Portrait Gallery I had what I thought was a highly telling experience. If I was ever in any doubt I knew my preferences then. I really do adore Cassandra’s artless portrait as much as many seem to be repulsed by it. I think this is irreducibly subjective and we should get used to the differences of opinions.

    Standing back though, I find it interesting how strong a reaction this creates.

  4. Cassandra’s portrait is the real deal, that is the strong sharp-eyed woman who wrote those strong novels and letters!

  5. Interesting Arnie. I think the appeal is similar for both of us. While her features are sharp I find her eyes compassionate–it is that combination of a sharp exterior with a big heart that I like.

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