Mysterious Portrait of Jane Austen Up for Sale

'The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen' i i

hide captionThe Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, by British painter Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), is being sold at auction.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
'The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen'

The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, by British painter Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), is being sold at auction.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Christie's auction house today will put up for sale what is believed to be the only oil painting of Jane Austen. It's being sold by one of the writer's descendants, Henry Rice. The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, as it is known, could sell for as much as $800,000 — if bidders believe the girl in the painting really is a teenage Jane Austen.

Some skeptics have argued that the short hair and empire-waist dress weren't stylish until Austen, who was born in 1775, was much older. They say that the young girl in the painting is just too pretty to be the author of Pride and Prejudice.

"The author of Jane Austen's novels couldn't possibly look like this, or they would be very different novels," author, poet and critic Clive James tells Renee Montagne.

"Jane Austen was not outstandingly beautiful or she'd be remembered as that," James says. "It's definitely not in the character of the books to be about a beautiful woman. They are about a woman who is not beautiful yet who has other virtues.

"Jane Austen was the person you didn't notice at the ball, but she noticed everything. That was her role."

The portrait, by British painter Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), was first featured in an 1884 collection of Austen's letters.

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