Portrait of Edward Austen

Object name: Portrait of Edward Austen, later Knight

Object number: CHWJA:JAH93

Category: Objects

Description: Half-length portrait of Jane Austen’s third brother Edward Austen, later Knight (1767–1852), as a young man. Oil on canvas, 74 x 63cm. Artist unknown.

Made: circa 1783

Context: When Edward was 16 years old, an agreement was reached between his parents and his third cousin, Thomas Knight, that Edward would be adopted as the heir to Thomas’ estates. Both Thomas and his wife Catherine had been very fond of Edward for some years and when it became clear they were unlikely to have children of their own, they chose Edward to inherit their considerable estates at Godmersham in Kent and Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire. A condition of the inheritance was that Edward and his descendants would change their name from Austen to Knight. It is through this inheritance that Edward was able to offer his mother and sisters a home at Chawton Cottage in 1809.

The portrait is believed to have been commissioned by Thomas Knight and painted around the time of Edward’s adoption as the heir to the Knight estates. The artist is unknown although Romney has been suggested as a possibility as he is known to have worked for the Knights. Although the face is well painted the body and background are not considered to be of the same standard.

The portrait passed through the family of Edward’s second daughter, Elizabeth, until it was sold in 1991. The portrait was purchased for Jane Austen’s House in 2002 with the help of a grant from the V&A.

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