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Miniature portraits of Jane Austen’s friends up for auction

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They were close neighbours and friends of the Austen family, who lived at the rectory in Steventon from 1775 to 1801.

Portrait miniature of James Digweed (Dominic Winter Auctioneers/PA)

Three portrait miniatures of childhood friends of Jane Austen are expected to fetch £3,000 when they are sold this week.

The small oval watercolours were painted by George Jackson, circa 1811, and feature Francis William Digweed, his older brother James, and James’s wife Mary Susannah nee Lyford.

The Digweeds were non-landed gentry who rented Steventon Manor, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, from Thomas Knight, and subsequently his heir, Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight.

(Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

Consequently, they were close neighbours and friends of the Austen family, who lived at the rectory in Steventon from 1775 to 1801.

It was here that Jane wrote the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. Steventon was, as her nephew James-Edward Austen-Leigh wrote, the ‘cradle of her genius’.

James Digweed was born at the Manor the year before Jane and the two children grew up together and formed a great friendship.

His wife Susannah was also a close friend of Jane and her father was a physician who attended on the Austen family during their residency in Steventon.

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Unsurprisingly, the Digweeds are often referred to in Jane Austen’s letters, their societal paths criss-crossing at dinners, balls, and other social occasions.

(Dominic Winter Auctioneers)

The paintings are be sold by Dominic Winter Auctioneers in South Cerney, Gloucestershire on July 25.

Auctioneer Chris Albury said: “Anything directly associated with Jane Austen, her family or friends always creates a lot of global auction excitement.

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“There is only one authenticated portrait of Jane Austen herself, a small pencil and watercolour sketch made by her sister Cassandra, on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“While these beautiful little miniatures were painted a decade after the Austens left Steventon and show the Digweeds now in their thirties, they depict genuine Regency characters the like of which inhabit and inform Jane Austen’s fiction world.

“It is an additional pleasing piece of serendipity that these miniatures were painted at the time of the publication of Jane’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811.”

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