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).
The words Dame Mary in the inscription (presumably not original to Mercier) are, I suggest, used in an imprecise and archaic way, merely to indicate a woman of high social status and/or the mistress of a great house. If they are to be retained in the title then the following would be more appropriate: 'Dame Mary': Lady Samwell (died 1758), née Mary Clarke, second wife of Sir Thomas Samwell, 2nd Baronet. However it might be simpler to drop the Dame Mary altogether -- as indeed Ingamells and Raines do.
The date should of course be corrected from 17th century to c.1730 and 'unknown acquisition method' perhaps replaced by something along the lines of 'transferred from the Northants Development Association, Upton House, at an unknown date' -- subject of course to the collection's views. Ingamells and Raines record the work as belonging to this Association in 1978.
The sitter was born Mary Clarke, daughter of Sir Gilbert Clarke of Chilcote, Derbyshire. She married first William Ives of Bradden, Northamptonshire, and, as his widow, secondly, on 26 January 1721, Sir Thomas Samwell, 2nd Baronet (14 April 1687-16 November 1757), as the latter’s second wife. Sir Thomas had succeeded to the title on the death of his father Sir Thomas, 1st Baronet, in 1694. His first wife was Millicent Fuller, who died in 1716, He was Whig MP for Coventry from 1717 to 1722. The family seats were Upton House, Northamptonshire, and Atherstone on Stour, Warwickshire. A few further details are given on the ‘The History of Parliament’ website.
Correction: Northants County Development Association
I was on the point of suggesting that this discussion might also be linked to the 'East Midlands: Artists and Subjects' group -- on account of the sitter's Northamptonshire connections -- when I realised that all group linkings had disappeared, presumably as a result of the recent website migration.
Just to note, group links are now visible again. Thanks for everyone's patience.
Because of the sitter's connection to Northamptonshire, this discussion is now linked to the East Midlands: Artists and Subjects group.