Paper Money

Is Jane Austen portrait on new £10 note ‘too pretty’?

If it is possible to feel sorry for a central bank, a leading candidate would be the Bank of England. As if it were not enough that it has had to face such a torrent of outrage concerning its £5 note that it is attempting a reformulation of the polymer substrate to eliminate animal fat, it is now encountering a furor over the portrait on the yet-to-be-released Jane Austen £10 note. That note will be officially introduced on July 18, the bicentennial of the author’s 1817 death.

English media reports outrage among biographers, historians, Austen addicts, and others that her image on the polymer note shows her to be much prettier than she actually was, or as the Birmingham Daily Mail put it, “she looks a little like a Disney princess.”

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The £10 note’s portrait is based on the only portrait of Austen confirmed to have been made during her lifetime. A more finished portrait was commissioned in 1870 by the author’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh, and is now on display at London’s National Gallery. It was adapted from an original sketch of Jane Austen drawn by her sister Cassandra in 1810.

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The original unfinished sketch shows Austen with pointed chin, thin lips, chubby cheeks and unfocused, baggy eyes. The bank note’s Austen is undeniably more attractive. She has piercing eyes, a slightly different nose, and a hint of a Mona Lisa smile.

The Bank of England declined to comment on the latest tempest, but overlooked has been the statement made by the bank when it unveiled the concept of the note in July 2013. It said then, “The portrait of Jane Austen, which will appear on the banknote, is adapted from a sketch drawn by her sister Cassandra Austen,” making clear that the exercise of artistic license was its intent.

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