Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Mrs. Anne Lefroy (1749-1804), shown profile to the right, wearing a grey dress, her hair powdered 

Richard Crosse (1742-1810)

Portrait miniature of Mrs. Anne Lefroy (1749-1804), shown profile to the right, wearing a grey dress, her hair powdered, Richard Crosse
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1 5/8in (40mm) high
The collection of C.D. Cholmeley-Harrison Esq. Sotheby’s, London, 8th June 1995, lot 214 Private Collection
Ledger of Richard Crosse, 29th May 1780, Crosse ‘recd. Of Mrs. Lefroy for her do., eight pounds eight shillings’, Walpole Society, vol. XVII, London, 1929, p.72
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Anne Lefroy was born Anne Brydges in 1749. In 1778 she married Isaac Peter George Lefroy (1745-1806), Rector of Ashe. Anne’s relationship with Jane Austen (1775-1817) began in 1783, when Jane was just seven years old. The Lefroys had just moved into the Rectory, later known as Ashe House, with their three sons. Their son Benjamin (1791-1829) married Anne Austen, the eldest daughter of James Austen and niece of Jane Austen.

Known as ‘Madam Lefroy’ for her sophisticated tastes and manners, Anne became as close confidant of Jane’s, some have suggested she took the role of a surrogate parent. As a great reader (and writer) of poetry, she allowed Jane access to the extensive library at Ashe House. She used her relative wealth to great advantage, vaccinating and educating children the village children. During the particularly harsh winter of February 1800, Lefroy set up a straw manufactory to employ the women and children of the district. This elegant persona is beautifully painted by Crosse, her powdered hair piled high.

Anne Lefroy also played a part in Jane’s affairs of the heart. Between 1795 and 1796 Jane began to imagine the beginnings of a romance between herself and Tom Lefroy. Her progress is charted in letters to her sister Casandra: ‘Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together’, she wrote on 9–10 January 1796 (Letters, 1). However, Anne took a dim view of the match, sending her son back to London to halt any progress in the affair. It is thought that Anne was instrumental in introducing Jane in 1797 to Samuel Blackall, who was about to be appointed a parish. This introduction came to nothing as Jane found no connection with the man, but he may have been the inspiration for her ‘Mr. Collins’ in Pride and Prejudice.

As recorded on the border of the gold frame of this miniature, Anne Lefroy died from a fall from her horse on the 16th December 1804; Jane Austen’s 29th birthday. This inspired Jane to write a poem from the heart in memory of her friend. It begins: To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday.
The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–
Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–
This is only the beginning of a long and heartfelt eulogy and ‘Madam Lefroy’ was clearly an important person in Jane’s life. The inscription of the date of death on the portrait miniature shows its later purpose as mourning jewellery.
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