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English professor investigates an unknown portrait of Jane Austen

Posted on 20/12/2011
Is this an unseen portrait of Jane Austen?

Presenter Martha Kearney with portrait owner Paula Byrne.

An academic at Royal Holloway, University of London is to investigate the authenticity of a portrait that may be one of the only remaining images of Jane Austen in a BBC Two documentary.

Professor Judith Hawley, from the Department of English, will offer her insights and expertise into portraits of women writers and the status of the woman writer in the early 19th century in Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? at 9pm on Boxing Day (Monday 26 December). 

Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated writers of all time but with only a rough sketch by her sister we have just an inkling of what she may have looked like. Austen academic and biographer Dr Paula Byrne thinks that this may be about to change. She believes that she’s discovered a portrait of the author that has been lost for nearly two centuries and may offer fascinating new insight into how Jane once lived and portrayed herself to the world.

In a one-off special, presenter Martha Kearney joins the search to find out whether an unusual drawn portrait really does capture the face of the well-loved author.

Professor Hawley says: “I was one of several people interviewed by Martha Kearney. The camera captured my look of surprise when I first saw the image but if you want to know whether or not I agree that the picture represents Jane Austen, you will have to watch the programme.”

Will the picture stand up to forensic analysis and scrutiny by art historians and Austen experts? And if it does, how might it change perceptions of one of Britain’s most revered writers? Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? follows the investigation behind one of the literary world’s most exciting art works.


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