Painting of Jane Austen (or Someone Else) to Fetch a Hefty Sum at Auction


A controversial painting of a young woman in a white dress holding a green parasol will be sold at auction next Thursday at Christie's in New York City. Some say it's the only oil painting of the 19th-century British author Jane Austen in existence. Others aren't so sure, and point out the style of the woman's dress, which some say came into fashion in England when Austen was much older. The owner of the painting, by British society painter Ozias Humphrey, is Henry Rice, a descendent of Austen, who inherited the work from his father.

The so-called "Rice Portrait of Jane Austen," which came into prominence in 1884 when it was featured in the first published collection of Austen's letters, is estimated to fetch between $400,000 and $800,000. To see the painting, visit the Web site of the Jane Austen Society of North America, whose chairman, Brian Southam, supports the painting's authenticity.

Austen, the author of the novels Sense and Sensibility (Carey and Lea, 1833), Pride and Prejudice (T. Egerton, 1813), and Mansfield Park (T. Egerton, 1814), among others, died in 1817. Virginia Woolf called her "the most perfect artist among women."