Is this Your Lizzie Bennet?

Portrait of Mrs. Walter Learmouth, by Sir Henry Raeburn (ca 1800)This beautiful oil portrait circa 1800 of a lady (Mrs. Walter Learmouth?) is attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A. (Scottish, 1756-1823). He is one of my favorite artists of the Georgian and Regency era, producing powerful, stark and realistic paintings of his subjects. This portrait of Mrs. Learmouth in a white dress against a dramatic stormy sky and shadowy landscape frames the uncertainty of her expression. She is neither smiling nor frowning, leaving the viewer to interpret her personality and mood. She looks pensive to me, but her slight knowing smile and piercing dark eyes reminded author Deirdre Le Faye of Jane Austen’s most famous fine eyed heroine Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Le Faye uses this portrait as an example of what she feels matches Jane Austen’s description of Elizabeth Bennet in her book Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels (2006). 

With her slender figure and dark hair, and the amused gleam in her eyes, she agrees perfectly with Jane Austen’s image of Elizabeth Bennet. pp 186

Of Elizabeth we only gradually learn that she is very pretty, with a figure that is ‘light and pleasing’, and that her face is ‘rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes’. pp 186 

It is interesting to match Austen’s description of Elizabeth with another artists painting. A bit of a gambit really since Austen so cleverly did not describe her heroine’s physical attributes in detail, leaving the reader to visualize ‘their’ Lizzy Bennet in their minds eye. Is this your Lizzy Bennet? I have another vision of my personal Lizzy – more cheerful and exuberant – younger, and with large eyes. This portrait is a stunner, but seems more the Regency Mona Lisa, than the witty, spirited and sparkling Lizzy that I love. 

The portrait of Mr. Walter Learmouth recently sold at Christie’s New York on16 June 2009 for $9,375. It seems like quite a bargain for a Raeburn. Honestly, however did the owner part with it? I hope that the new owners will make it available to the public in some way. She is too lovely to hide away. Lizzy Bennet – or not!

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye (2006)Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels, by Deirdre Le Faye is essential reading for students of literature and Austen enthusiasts. “Meticulously researched overview of the period, from foreign affairs, fashion, and social ranks to transportation, candle etiquette, and sanitation practices. She goes on to consider each novel individually, explaining in detail its action, its setting, the reaction of the public and critics, and Austen’s own feelings about the book.” Available in softcover (2006) ISBN: 9780711222786

10 thoughts on “Is this Your Lizzie Bennet?

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  1. Very beautiful! :) But I imagine Lizzie to have a lighter figure, as mentioned in books. But who knows, maybe it’s the dress.

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  2. I think the portrait could fit as Elizabeth Bennet Rather well perhaps less Elizabeth around 20-21 as in the book but more Lizzy around 25 to 30 years old.

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