It wasn’t easy to get a woman to be the face of the new £10 note – it was only after a fierce campaign by feminists that Jane Austen was chosen. But despite that victory, there’s another reason to be annoyed at the Bank of England.
Historians and campaigners have criticised the bank’s decision to use an “airbrushed” portrait of the author, rather than a more realistic portrait drawn during her lifetime, reported The Sunday Times.
The portrait of Austen chosen for the new £10 polymer note, which will be unveiled on the 200th anniversary of her death on the 18th July, was painted after she died and depicts her looking calm, with a plump and stereotypically “pretty” face.
However, campaigners say the bank should have used a sketch of Austen by her sister Cassandra, drawn while she was alive, which shows her with a more assertive expression, thinner lips, a pointed chin, and bags under her eyes. The sketch is on display in London’s National Portrait Gallery.
Lucy Worsley, the TV presenter and historian, said it’s “deeply ironic” that the image chosen for the new note isn’t really Austen. “It's an author publicity portrait after she died in which she's been given the Georgian equivalent of an airbrushing,” she told The Sunday Times.
“Jane had a much sharper face — some might call it sour. And she was a sharp person. I think of her as being like a bracing martini,” added Worsley.
“Someone who actually knew Jane called the banknote portrait a ‘pleasing, sweet face’, but then added that it’s really not ‘much like the original’. It’s the National Portrait Gallery’s sketch that we think really is Jane — a sketch done by her sister Cassandra.”
The more recent “retouched” portrait was based on Cassandra’s original sketch, according to Austen biographer Paula Byrne. She told The Sunday Times: “They presumably said to the artist, make it look prettier . . . It is like doctoring a selfie by a celebrity. It is such a shame because that demure image is just not Austen.”
More than 35,000 people signed the petition calling for the new £10 note to feature a woman, after the Bank of England decided to phase out the paper fivers with prison reformer Elizabeth Fry's face.
The bank reportedly started printing the new Austen notes last October and they'll be introduced this September. While it's great we've got a woman on the notes, it's just a shame they feature an unrealistic portrayal.