Completed Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 18th C, Scotland: Artists and Subjects 18 Did Scottish artist Katherine Read paint this portrait of Maria Gunning?

Topic: Artist

I think that this painting is not by Allan Ramsay but by his fellow Scottish artist Katherine Read. Their styles were quite similar. I believe it is the painting on which John Finlayson based his mezzotint published 15 May 1771. This mezzotint by John Finlayson, after Katherine Read of Maria Gunning can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery website

The painting is in a similar pose with a few minor alterations, with for example the flower shifted from the hair to the neck and the lace around the neck has been omitted and the lace at the top of the dress has been simplified. I believe such alterations were common when doing prints of portraits. What is similar is the hairstyle, the pearl earring, the pose, the string of pearls. Perhaps the painting looks more ‘feminine’ also than the style of Allan Ramsay.

Nicholas Ennos, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title has been updated from ‘Maria Gunning (1733–1760)’ to ‘Unknown Lady, Called Maria Gunning (1733–1760)’. The former attribution to Allan Ramsay has been replaced by ‘British School’.

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.


Neil Jeffares,

I doubt it. The original Katherine Read engraved by Finlayson is a pastel, which you can find at J.612.199 in the online Dictonary of pastellists

Jacob Simon,

The scale of the portrait and the handling of the features and the dress, as well as the composition itself, do not fit comfortably with Katherine Read's work. And generally engravings of famous people followed the original painting fairly closely. I think we must look elsewhere for a fairly minor artist whom I fear will defy identification.

Jacinto Regalado,

I agree with Jacob that the print is quite unlikely to have deviated so much from the original, and that this is by a minor hand. Needless to say, this picture is clearly not autograph Ramsay, so it should not be attributed to him.

Bendor Grosvenor,

I suspect Jacob is right, we may never get there, but certainly not with this image. If we can't get a better image from Maidstone, let's wrap this one up.

I have emailed our Art Detective Collections Manager contact to see if a better image, with details and possibly the frame might be something they could now provide if their stores are now accessible.

Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery,

Thank you for attaching two images of the portrait. Unless we could look more closely at the details than these allow, with images of a quality that mean they can't be attached here (which you could send to me via WeTransfer or similar), I think we should conclude this as Jacob and Bendor suggest by amending the artist record to unknown artist.

Other than the original PCF images which are used on this site, we do not have access to higher res professional photography services i'm afraid

Thank you for your quick reply. We can't make progress without a visit or better images, so shall we amend the record to 'unknown artist' with a note that it was previously attributed to Allan Ramsay?

Jacob Simon,

My answer to Marion's question from almost a year ago is "Yes" to amending the record as she suggests. But I expect it is the collection's response that Marion is waiting for.

My own view is that "better" images or a site visit would not advance the discussion.

Jacob Simon,

A further thought. Why is the woman identified as Maria Gunning? No evidence has been advanced to support the identification. She was sufficiently prominent in society to have been depicted by leading artists in a rather grander way.

So I'd describe this portyrait as unknown lady by unknown artist unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Jacob Simon,

Maidstone provided extra images of this portrait on 28/05/2022. They seem to me to be quite good enough to reach a conclusion. Marion (30/05/2022) suggested concluding the discussion by amending the artist record to unknown artist. I support this.

Jacob Simon,

I have taken the opportunity to review the contributions to this discussion, which asks the question “Did Scottish artist Katherine Read paint this portrait of Maria Gunning?”

The portrait is very small, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper folded in half. There is some discoloured varnish. The way that the paint sits on the surface of the canvas creats a slightly uneven effect. However, I think that the online image is good enough to come to some judgments.

THE ARTIST. Both Allan Ramsay and another Scottish artist, Katherine Read, have been mentioned. In my experience, having had occasion to research Ramsay for an exhibition and Read for an article, neither attribution is tenable, as early posts in this discussion suggest (05/03/2021, 31/05/2021). “Unknown artist”, as suggested by Marion Richards, with a note that the portrait was previously attributed to Allan Ramsay (30/05/2022) would be appropriate. “Unknown British artist” would be best.

THE SITTER. Previously I have asked the question as to why the woman has been identified as Maria Gunning (01/06/2023). She was sufficiently prominent in society to have been depicted by leading artists in a rather grander way. That is not to say that the portrait could not depict her. The cautious approach would be to describe her as “Unknown lady, called Maria Gunning”. Unless the collection wishes to retain “Maria Gunning”, with a note that the identification is uncertain.

On this basis, I would recommend closing this discussion.

I am very grateful to Jacob Simon for generously offering to step in temporarily as Group Leader for 'British Portraits, 18th C', to help close some of these discussions.

Jacob Simon,

I like Marcie's comparison in the immediately preceding post. But I suspect that the similarities are coincidence. Had an artist been working from Frye's mezzotint I believe that s/he would have followed it more closely.