Painted by William Wood (1769-1810), the miniature depicts Mary Pearson, and was offered by the London gallery for £7500.
Pearson was the daughter of a naval officer and was engaged to Henry Thomas Austen, a dashing young man in ‘regimentals’ and brother of Jane, in 1796. After meeting Pearson, Jane remarked to her sister that their mother would be “disappointed” with the reality, having seen the bride-to-be depicted – possibly in this portrait miniature.
The object in question, a 3½in (9cm) high watercolour on ivory, is in a gold frame with plaited hair to the reverse.
Before being offered by Mould, it was passed down through Pearson’s family by descent – it is thought to have been returned to the Pearsons following Henry’s clumsy breaking of the engagement. Jane was responsible for returning the jilted lover’s letters.
Pearson went on to marry twice and lives on famously as the supposed inspiration for Lydia Bennett in Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.
Mould told ATG: “Finding a face that illuminated a great writer’s imagination is immensely satisfying, particularly when it joins other artefacts in the author’s own house. When art has a greater context it can draw in so many more people - like holding up a candle to history.”
It is one of a number of acquisitions recently made by the museum and was purchased with support from the Beecroft Bequest and the Art Fund.
Jane Austen’s House has also recently added to its collection a trio of miniatures depicting the author’s neighbours the Digweed family. These went under the hammer at Dominic Winter last July. One sold for £1600, while the other two sold for £1650 each.