Completed London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 19 Could this be an actual sketch by Joshua Reynolds?

Unfinished Study of a Woman
Topic: Subject or sitter

This work is related to a painting by Reynolds ( showing Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante. Aside from the technique, there are significant differences for a copy – the omission of the garland on the head, for example.

Could this be an actual sketch by Reynolds? There are one or two of these on Art UK.

Al Brown, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The subject of this painting has been identified as Emma Hart (c.1765–1815), later Lady Hamilton, as a Bacchante (after Joshua Reynolds). The artist is still unknown. Art UK’s record has been updated accordingly and the new information will be visible on the website in due course.

Thank you to all for participating in this discussion. To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Rohan McCulloch,

I'd say this is by Romney not Reynolds....various examples are about ...will find links. A couple of Romney sketches sold at Christies South Ken in April that are very close stylistically.

Osmund Bullock,

It is hard to find similar rough oil sketches by Reynolds to compare (at least online). In most a sitter's head is already well-developed, even if what surrounds it is rudimentary - see, for example, Yale Uni's 'Omai' ( ) or Yale CBA's 'Mrs Robinson' ( ). The Ashmolean's 'Charity' on ArtUK ( ) is perhaps the most helpful, and certainly has aspects in common. And your logic is undeniable, Al: the differences between this sketch and the painting at Christie's are numerous and substantial, and the feel is certainly that of a very loose early concept - so early, in fact, that (if it is Reynolds) it seems to pre-date his decision to use Emma Hamilton as the model.

One other observation: I find myself drawn to the raised hand, the line of which is most impressive to my rather non-expert eye. I think this suggestion has merit: what do others think?

David Mannings' Reynolds catalogue raisonne will show where the known versions of the finished picture are: one is, I think, at Waddesdon. The fact this study bears the title it has is suspicious given that the finished image is very well known (it was engraved) and if anyone seriously thought it by Reynolds it should have been more closely titled and tied up with him by now.

Rohan McCulloch,

Think this work is by Romney.....Alex Kidson is the expert who needs to see it...

Manchester Art Gallery,

I'm am receiving emails to state an update but it is not displaying here for some reason.

Rohan McCulloch says "Think this work is by Romney.....Alex Kidson is the expert who needs to see it..." and "A couple of Romney sketches sold at Christies South Ken in April that are very close stylistically."

Martin Hopkinson,

Reynolds' original was copied in a mezzotint [Victoria and Albert Museum and National Maritime Museum] and a line engraving [National Portrait Gallery]
Page 282 of Hilda Gamlin, Lady Hamilton, an old tale re-told, Liverpool, 1891 is illustrated by a copy after Reynolds [not visible on the online edition]
Is anything known about the earlier provenance of this sketch?

Mannings and Postle's catalogue raisonne of works by Reynolds,published in 2000) does not list this work, yet since it entered the collection at Manchester in 1976, they would certainly have known about it. They cite two finished pictures of this subject by Reynolds (nos. 815, 816) --both illustrated and both private collections. The Waddesdon picture is, as Pieter points out, a copy by John Rising. M and P list several other recorded copies, some unlocated, but all on or close to the measurements of the two main versions. The Manchester picture is less than half the size.

What is also interesting is that the format of the Manchester picture is significantly different--more upright, with more sky at the top.

The fact that the composition was engraved means it could be copied/adapted by anyone but, the engraving shows the figure reversed. So if the Manchester picture is a variant then it is making reference to the original or to a copy.

The picture was acquired by Manchester as a bequest, or was perhaps part of one (so was not apparently something they sought) but it is surprising the existing title does not mention the sitter link: e.g.'Unfinished study of a woman (Emma Hamilton)' . Reynolds's original image is well known and Emma usually a rapidly identifiable sitter, whoever by.

While this is really Barbara's call I suggest the title is altered as in my previous comment and the artist changed to 'after Joshua Reynolds' so this is not just left as a loose end. It is intriguing that, since not exactly the Reynolds format and not reversed, it may be after a canvas rather than the print, but given it's not in Mannings & Postle there appears no case for more.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Is the moderator able to bring this discussion to a close? Can Pieter's recommendation be agreed is the right call to make?

There is one more comment to make about this picture. It was bequeathed to Manchester upon the death of Wilfrid Rene Wood (1888-1976), a fairly well known watercolour painter. Born in the greater Manchester suburb of Cheadle, he studied at Manchester School of Art, the Central School and the Slade. Perhaps the bequest stemmed from his allegiance to his home city where he first studied art, but this is speculation. His works are mainly watercolour views of towns in England and poster designs for London underground.

If Manchester want to take the discussion one step further, it might be worth looking at details of the bequest in 1976. Also if one wants to establish if this copy/variant on Reynolds's picture or engraving is an 18C work or a 19C work or even a 20C work, then an inspection of the back of the canvas would help.

I might just ask again if Manchester can look at the back of the picture and report about its appearance, etc. And send a snap if there is anything interesting. If this reveals nothing, then the discussion will be closed.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Here's a quick snap of the reverse - not very revealing to me, I'm afraid - please have a look, Barbara. This seems to be the only work that Wilfrid R Wood bequeathed to Manchester. He left money to the gallery, quite a lot of it (a quick flick through the file reveals at least £29,000 but I can't tell at a glance if this is as well as the 6 houses that he also left to the gallery or was the assets of £12,850 and the sale of one or more of the six houses added together). Anyway, he stipulated that his generous financial bequest was to buy contemporary art, and it might interest you to know that the first work acquired was Bridget Riley's 'Zephyr'. So it may be that the picture was more of a keepsake that came along with a sizable cash legacy? Without the time for a full-scale rummage, the only document I have found about the painting's entry into the collection is the accession register, which doesn't help with this conundrum. So, do you think we should say 'after Reynolds' in the title, and close the discussion? Thanks to all for your help.
Hannah Williamson
Curator, Fine Art, Manchester Art Gallery

1 attachment

Dear Hannah, thanks so much for this. No, it's not greatly revealing but it does look old and not 20C. It also seems quite rough and ready. A guess is that it is a 19C variation on the painting by Reynolds which was well-known through engravings and copies. The original work (RA 1784, Mannings & Postle 815) and the studio replica (Mannings & Postle 816) appeared at exhibitions throughout the 19C. It was much copied both in the 18C (several in high-profile collections) and 19C (for ex., see William Collin's copy
Interesting about Wilfrid Wood's benefactions and the excellent use his money went to at Manchester.

I recommend that this work be called Emma Hart (c.1765–1815), later Lady Hamilton, as a Bacchante (after Joshua Reynolds) by an unknown artist

Manchester Art Gallery,

Thank you to all who contributed to this interesting discussion.
Manchester Art Gallery accepts this advice and will change the title of the work accordingly.

Emma Hart (c.1765–1815), later Lady Hamilton, as a Bacchante (after Joshua Reynolds) by an unknown artist

Two minor additional observations: (1) Emma was baptised on 12 May 1765, (and 'bap.' is what ODNB uses)which makes it pretty much a certainty she was born earlier that year rather than 'circa'. (2) It may just be an illusion from the weave of the canvas but the Manchester sketch looks like it has grid squares underdrawn. I suppose it might just be a rough workout for a copy, then restarted, though the Rising one is, I think, smaller ( and dark, having just seen it). Thanks for pursuing and winding up.

As far as the birth date goes, I was following what many other depictions of Emma come up as on Art UK and seeing the National Trust used this form, I just took that.
We can close now.