In 1795, young Mary Pearson, the daughter of a naval officer, became engaged to Henry Thomas Austen, a dashing young man in ‘regimentals’ and brother of author Jane Austen.
After meeting Pearson, Jane remarked to her sister that their mother would be “disappointed” with the reality, having seen the bride-to-be depicted probably in portrait miniature.
“If Miss Pearson should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty,” she wrote.
Dealer Philip Mould may now have rediscovered the very depiction that Jane referred to in the form of a portrait miniature by William Wood (1769-1810). The 3½in (9cm) high watercolour on ivory is in a gold frame with plaited hair to the reverse. It has come through Pearson’s family by descent.
“Wood is in the top rank of artists at the time,” says the dealership’s Emma Rutherford of the miniature. “Pearson came from a distinguished family that went to a London artist for her portrait. She’s in the classic high-waisted gown and would probably be described as ‘Austen-esque’.
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 and seems to have been friendly with her, staying in touch until 1799, despite her initial acerbic description.
Pearson went on to marry twice and lives on famously as the supposed inspiration for Lydia Bennett in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. This is the first time a depiction of her has been recorded.
The miniature is available for £7500.