Completed Dress and Textiles, North West England: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 11 Can we clarify the identity of the sitter Hester Heywood and who painted her?

Miss Hester Heywood
Topic: Artist

The traditional identity of the sitter and painter of this portrait are open to doubt. It clearly cannot be Hester, or 'Nessy', Heywood, the second daughter of Deemster Peter John Heywood and Elizabeth Spedding, born at the Nunnery, near Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1768. There was an earlier Hester Heywood (1718–1789), daughter of Robert Reeves, a merchant from Cork, who married Thomas Heywood (1698–1759) of the distinguished Isle of Man family in 1738. Thomas was Speaker (then called 'Chairman') of the House of Keys from 1738–1758. If this portrait is of Hester then it cannot have been painted earlier than about 1735, most likely c.1738, long after Peter Lely's death. The lady's dress may also date from around the 1730s. [Group Leader: Manto Psarelli]

Andrew Greg, British 19th C, except portraits, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated from ‘Miss Hester Heywood’ to ‘Possibly Hester Heywood (1718–89)’ and the date changed from c.1768 to c.1710–1735.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


The Collection have commented: ‘Note from our Curator, Matthew Richardson in 2015: There is likely to be some confusion here between Mrs Hester Heywood (died 1789) the grandmother of Peter Heywood of the Bounty, his aunt Hester, and his sister Nessy (also christened Hester). If the portrait is of Hester Heywood the aunt, she is recorded as having married at Braddan in 1768 and this provides an approximate date for the portrait. In any event the portrait is unlikely to be by Lely who died in 1680. Our Curators of Art and Social History have not discovered anything more about this portrait, since the assertion was made in 2015 that it is not by Lely. If Art UK wish to start a discussion that is fine, perhaps someone may be able to offer comment on the style of dress, which may clarify the date.'

Jacinto Regalado,

This is either a copy or the work of a provincial artist. Lou Taylor should be consulted as to dating based on dress and hair, but it looks earlier than 1730s to me, more like c. 1720.

Jacinto Regalado,

In case it is not clear, the reference to Lely is due to a former attribution or association of this picture to him, implausible though that was. It is rather common for early 18th C pictures to be wrongly connected to him, or it was in the past.

Lou Taylor, Dress and Textiles,

The sitter in this portrait is wearing 'artistic' dress, with its loose fabric, simple low V neck filled with plain ruffles and wide open-ended sleeves. Such styles were worn for long periods of time. This makes the portrait harder to date- but perhaps it explains the close similarity of the dress and hair style in Marcie's portrait by John Smibert of Hannah Gardiner of 1732 to that of my first example: Mrs Haire by Michael Dahl, some 30 years earlier in 1701, Tate, no. T06499 if both are correctly dated.

Please see other examples:
- A Lady in the circle of Michael Dahl, c.1710, 1stDibs website
- Anne Blackett-Mrs-John Trenchard, c. 1723, by Maria Verelst, Philip Mould and Co.

Women's fashionable dress 1700-c.1730 consisted of a heavy silk mantua, sometimes tied to the back and cut open down the length of the centre front, worn with a stomacher and an underskirt. Sleeves were elbow length, quite fitted and with pleated cuffs at the elbow. That style in various forms was still being worn in the 1730s. Please see:
- c.1708, mantua dress, silk, MET. NY no 1991.6.1
-1720, silk V and A no T.88-1978 jpg
- c.1730 Mantua-Dress-England-V and A no T.324&A-1985.

In contrast to the 'artistic dresses’, which are usually plain, the above examples are made of the most beautiful patterned silk, from Spitalfields.

My guess would be that this portrait is c.1710–1725.

Jacob Simon,

“Can we clarify the identity of the sitter Hester Heywood and who painted her?” This discussion attracted five contributions in its first four days in 2021 and then stalled.

THE PORTRAIT. It appears to have come to the Manx Museum in 1963 from the registration number. On a survey of other 18th-century portraits in the Manx collection on ArtUK, it appears to have been an isolated acquisition. There should be some paperwork on the museum file explaining the acquisition and the rationale for the sitter identity. The portrait is slightly smaller than the standard English canvas size of 30 x 25 ins. It is very discoloured.

THE DATE. From the style of the painting, the type of costume and the hair style, looking both at Lou’s and Marcie’s posts, I suggest a date range of about 1710 to 1735. The current allocated date of about 1768 is clearly inaccurate.

THE SITTER. The collection knows of two or three Hester Heywoods. Hester Heywood (1718–89) remains a possibility. But one has to ask the collection why this name has been attached to the portrait. For the time being, “Possibly Hester Heywood (1718–89)” would seem appropriate.

THE ARTIST. As has been observed, the artist is provincial (to use this designation). It is not possible for us to identify the artist but a local curator or historian made be able to carry this forward if the artist was local to the Isle of Man. For the time being the current designation, “Unknown artist”, or “Unknown British artist”, would seem appropriate.

CONCLUSION. Unless the collection or some other local expert can provide further information, I suggest that we could move to close this discussion in two weeks’ time.

Thank you for all the comments posted during my annual leave. I will be working on the discussions again from tomorrow.

David has updated me that the attachments problem has still not been fixed, but that it is being worked on. I apologise for the inconvenience, especially in view of the limited time remaining and the significant efforts to help move discussions on.

Manx National Heritage,

The portrait was acquired by Manx National Heritage in November 1963. Information in the accessions register is as follows: "oil portrait of Miss Hester Heywood, 28 1/2 " / 22 1/4 " sight, in a gilt frame 33 1/4 / 27 1/2". Unsigned. (Claimed to be by Sir Peter Lely, but the dates do not coincide.)"

Manx National Heritage, thank you for letting us know what is in the accessions register. Are you happy for Art UK to adjust its record, as recommended by Jacob Simon (20/04/2024)?

Title: Possibly Hester Heywood (1718–89)
Date: c.1710–1735

Manx National Heritage,

Yes, we're happy for Art UK to adjust its record to:

Title: Possibly Hester Heywood (1718–89)
Date: c.1710–1735

We'll adjust our collections management database accordingly. Thank you for all the comments posted.