Hidden in plain sight, in the Regency rooms of the National Portrait Gallery, rests the famous, yet so very faint, portrait of Jane made by her sister Cassandra. I must tell you all about the exquisite encounter but first I will tell you how to get there because this blog aims to help you be the best Janeite you can be. If you have never been to the gallery before, this post is perfect for you because finding it might be tricky. Don’t worry. I will tell you how to get there in no time.
First take the underground (subway) from wherever you are in London making sure you get off at Leicester Square (Picadilly Line or Northern Line) or Charing Cross Underground Station (Bakerloo Line or Northern Line). If you pick Charing Cross you will be able to enjoy the beautiful Trafalgar Square on your way to the gallery. Right across from the square you will notice a rather majestic building up the steps – that is the National Gallery – still worth a visit but NOT where the portrait is. The National Portrait Gallery sits behind it at St. Martin’s Place around the corner.
Here is a map with aerial view to understand better where the entrance is. The buildings are adjacent but you have to go around the corner to enter right on St. Martin’s Place. Below the map a picture of the actual building you are looking for.
This is what the entrance looks like! It is a bit smaller compared to the National Gallery but it is also very impressive by itself.
Image from Wikipedia @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Portrait_Gallery,_London
The interior is beautiful and everyone is very helpful! Just ask for the Regency rooms and look for a stand. Yes, a stand. It is not on the wall. I was surprised but immediately understood why it is encased and sits on a stand by a corner. It is very small and it looks very fragile. I thought it would have a more prominent position but maybe it is the side I came from. Not to say I was quite frantic trying to find it. Then, it was right there in front of me. Finally! I looked at it and had the impression it was about to fade away and the only thing preventing it from happening was the case. So delicate yet so powerful because of its significance to the world. I never liked the picture of the drawing itself but it assumes a completely different role when you look at it and think it is a piece of paper more than 200 years old that was handed by all the Austens as they shared their opinions of the sketch and its likeness to Jane herself. Unforgettable experience. I truly recommend.
If you cannot make it there you can always watch my little video!
WARNING: the video below contains a very corny scene and if you are not passionate about Jane Austen, her novels, her letters, her story and her dear family, you will probably regret! By the way, I don’t know why I was whispering but it was not planned. I either have a lot of respect for the portrait and the gallery or I was just afraid people would think I was crazy since it was just me, the portrait and a smartphone. Ha!
If you have also visited the National Portrait Gallery please share your experiences with me leaving a comment below. It is very much appreciated.
Rita L. Watts, J.A.A.