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Ozias Humphrey (1742-1810)

Ozias Humphrey (8 September 1742 – 9 March 1810) was a leading English painter of portrait miniatures, later oils and pastels, of the 18th century. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1791, and in 1792 he was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King (i.e. pastels).

Born and schooled in Honiton, Devon, Ozias Humphrey was attracted by the gallery of casts opened by the Duke of Richmond and came to London to study art at Shipley’s school. He also studied art in Bath (under Samuel Collins, taking over his practice in 1762); in Bath, he lodged with Thomas Linley. As a young artist, his talent was encouraged by Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, among others. His problems with his sight, the result of a fall from his horse in the early 1770s, which ultimately led to blindness, forced him to give up miniature painting and paint larger works in oils and pastel.

Ozias Humphrey travelled to Italy in 1773 with his great friend George Romney, stopping en route at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, where the Duke of Dorset commissioned several works from him. His stay in Italy lasted until 1777.

On his return, his numerous subjects included George Stubbs (1777), fellow academician Dominic Serres, and the chemist Joseph Priestley. He compiled a fifty-page manuscript, A Memoir of George Stubbs, based on what Stubbs had related to him; it is the only contemporary biography of the “Painter of the English Enlightenment”. This was edited and privately published in the 1870s and republished in 2005. He also knew William Blake and commissioned copies of some of his illustrated books.

From 1785 to 1787, he travelled to India, producing many miniatures and sketches. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1791. In 1792 he was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons (Pastels) to the King. Most of his many portraits of the Royal Family are still in the Royal Collection.

 

In 1788 Ozias Humphrey painted what may, perhaps be his most famous painting, a portrait claimed to be of a young Jane Austen, known as the “Rice” portrait after its current owners. This portrait, painted, so family legend goes, was a “sister” piece to a similar portrait of Cassandra (now lost) and the famous portrait of Edward Austen-Knight on his return from the continent. The portrait of Edward has never been questioned, but the full length portrait of Jane was, for a time, misattributed to Johann Zoffany, which has caused later researchers to doubt it’s authenticity and suggest that the “sitter” is another member of the Austen family.

Still, family members who knew and remembered Jane did not seem to question that this portrait was indeed Jane Austen of Pride and Prejudice fame, painted about the time that her juvenilia was being written. The current owners, the Rice family, have spent a great deal of time authenticating the portrait, tracings it’s origins from its painting (perhaps at Uncle Francis Austen’s home, Sevenoaks?) to its current homes with them. Their research can be found www.janeaustenriceportrait.co.uk. Due to the rather recent controversial attribution of the sitter, this portrait failed to reach its minimum estimate in a Christies auction in April 2007, and was withdrawn from sale. No doubt its value will only increase with the passing of time.

In 1797 Ozias Humphrey’s sight finally failed, leaving him blind, and he died in 1810 in Hampstead, north London.

The bulk of his possessions came into the hands of his natural son, William Upcott, the book collector. From him the British Museum acquired a large number of papers relating to Humphry.

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