This miniature created by the fashionable portrait painter William Wood shows a likeness of Mary Pearson, a pivotal figure in the family history and work of writer Jane Austen.

In 1795 or 1796, Mary became engaged to Jane’s elder brother, Henry, an officer in the Oxford Militia. Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra record that she met her brother’s fiancée in Kent during the summer of1796. ‘If Miss Pearson should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty,’ she wrote.

Henry soon broke off the engagement, but Jane stayed in touch with Mary until1799. Wood’s fee book records that this portrait was painted in 1798, probably representing Mary’s re-entry into society as a marriageable woman.

Jane Austen’s House Museum holds an unparalleled collection of objects relating to the author, including letters, furniture and jewellery. There are several portraits of her male relatives, but relatively few of female friends or family.

As a likeness of a young woman known to Jane, this painting now has an important place in the collection. An added interest is that Mary Pearson, a pretty girl who jumped into a short-lived engagement with a dashing young soldier, may have been an inspiration for the character of Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. While this cannot be proved, it is known that Jane began working on the novel around autumn 1796, during the time of Mary and Henry’s doomed engagement.


By family descent until 2019 when it was sold to Philip Mould & Company

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