photo credit: Northampton Museums & Art Gallery
This portrait is currently listed as circle of Joseph Highmore. Might Philippe Mercier be a better attribution?
Philippe Mercier's work on Art UK: http://bit.ly/2ybsmQV
Yes. Her husband and children by Mercier are in the same collection
Mercier normally signed and normally in dark colours in dark places. . This may be discretely tucked away in the background.
Isaac Whood perhaps also be considered - see John Faber the Younger's mezzotints of The Seasons [impressions in the British Museum] - see also the portrait of Catherine Taylor in the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and Museum in Bedford
The work of both Mercier and Whood seems rather variable in quality, but Mercier appears to have been relatively more accomplished or sophisticated in painting women. Our picture is rather plain and somewhat primitive, perhaps too much so for Mercier.
The painting would appear to be no.83 (dated to c.1730), on p.30 of John Ingamells and Robert Raines, ‘A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier’ in ‘Walpole Society’, volume 46 (for 1976-1978), 1978. This may be consulted on Jstor, under 1976.
The portrait of the sitter's husband and children, to which Christopher Foley refers, is no.80, pl.2c, in the same volume, and was in the same ownership in 1978 -- Northants County Development Association, Upton House.
While the painting does not demonstrate the variable Mercier at his best (but perhaps there is a condition problem), the hands are certainly typical of him: compare 'Miss Adams', admittedly slightly later (signed and dated 1741):
The hands in Dame Mary's portrait are indeed better done, or come off better, than the face (which was possibly so plain that the artist was defeated by it, as it were). Miss Adams, albeit no beauty, is a considerably better picture all around, but yes, the treatment of the hand is similar.
Well done, Richard
Thanks, Martin and Jacinto. I like the idea of Mercier being defeated by the sitter's plainness! We now need to investigate in which capacity -- if in fact any -- she was 'Dame' as recorded in the inscription. Ingamells and Raines have her simply as Lady Samwell (died 1758, nee Mary Clarke, married 1721 Sir Thomas Samwell, second Baronet, as his second wife).