Portraits: British 18th C 16 Who is the sitter in this portrait by Joseph Highmore?

Peg Woffington
Topic: Subject or sitter

This doesn't look much like Woffington compared to the handful of other known portraits.

It could be a depiction of a scene from ‘As You Like It’, but Woffington famously played Rosalind, not a shepherdess.
Assuming there is definitely a theatrical connection with this portrait, I wonder whether it might be Kitty Clive in Colley Cibber's afterpiece ‘Damon and Phillida’. There was a very popular mezzotint, after Van Bleek, of Clive as the shepherdess Phillida.

Tate has some details on the play and another picture which depicts Clive as Phillida – she is wearing a little hat and has a staff which is similar to the Highmore:



The collection comments: ‘All we have in our records is the 1938 inventory that states this is Peg Woffington by Joseph Highmore. I see the similarities in the faces and it makes sense that she is dressed as an idealised shepherdess in front of an Arcadian set. There is no signature on the canvas but I have not personally taken it out of its frame.

I would be really keen to hear more so I can add this to our documentation - as further research into the sitter's identity would be fruitful. I have not looked through Highmore's catalogue of works either, to see if he painted Peg. This would be helpful to know.’

Annette Rubery, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Michael Liversidge,

This may be a case of an identification added to a portrait to give it celebrity interest - there are many examples of images to which names have been attached without any actual evidence. The problem here seems to be that the iconography of a shepherdess is a commonplace convention in European portraits widely encountered the 17th and 18th centuries (see the excellent essay on the subject in Helene E Roberts ed., Encyclopaedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art, Sarah S Gibson, 'Shepherds/Shepherdesses', 1998 [Fitzroy Dearborn] and 2013 [Routledge], pp 817-23). There are literally scores of British paintings, and prints after paintings, of women portrayed in the characters of shepherdesses from van Dyck to Wright of Derby. The pastoral theme was especially popular between the Restoration and mid-18th century. So there is no very good reason to suppose that this portrait represents Peg Woffington or Kitty Clive, or indeed an actress: she could very well be an unknown lady as a shepherdess.
The other problem is the way the features are represented: the portrait follows a standardised period treatment which gives the likeness an almost stereotyped appearance for its time. Without some specific detail in the picture to associate it with a particular theatrical performance or character it is difficult to identify the woman portrayed as taking any role other than as a fashionable embodiment of a shepherdess.
For Kitty Clive, there are a number of images from the National Portrait Gallery at the link below, but none of them are particularly similar to the portrait.


Robin Simon,

I think Michael is right to sound this note of caution. This could well just be a shepherdess outfit. Kitty Clive's appearance in 1740 is attested by the signed and dated portrait by Verelst in the Garrick Club.I take it that the portrait under discussion dates from the mid-1730s, and Clive must have put on weight at truly dramatic speed (if it were she) to look as she did in 1740. In fact, that does appear to have happened, because there is a dated 1735 portrait of her by Jeremiah Davison at Longleat (there is mezzotint of it too) that shows her as much slimmer. The likeness, though, is apparent in the Verelst and Davison and not in the present portrait.

Annette Rubery,

Agree that it is problematic to assume that this is a celebrity, given the trend amongst ladies of the period to be depicted as shepherdesses. You're right, Robin, that Kitty Clive did put on weight - she was much more sylphlike in 1729, when she premiered as Phillida, than in later years! I see from a footnote to Jacqueline Riding's latest book on Highmore a reference to 13 celebrities painted by him - she doesn't list them. She has referred to Abraham Langford's A Catalogue of the Genuine and Entire Collection of Pictures of Mr Joseph Highmore (London, 1760). I tried to find this in the BL catalogue but couldn't - anyone know where it can be obtained, since it would be interesting to see who the celebrities were?

Jacinto Regalado,

Clive seems to have had fairly distinctive eyes. Here is a better image of the Verelst portrait from 1740:


She looks vaguely Spanish in it, or at least she reminds me of the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé. In any case, the face in our picture, as I said previously, is more generic or generalized.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is, of course, possible that Highmore may have been inspired by the van Bleeck painting of Clive as Phillida (or the print after it) to paint a different lady as a comparable "shepherdess."

Thank you all, for your comments and images. I do not see much of a likeness in the Verelst portrait from 1740. And, I would tend to agree that the most likely possibility is that this is a lady aiming to model herself off the celebrity portraits. What might be interesting is to see the list of portraits Highmore executed in this period and see if any landed gentry in Scotland were featured. This might point to a specific name rather than the assumption it is Peg of Kitty. Does anyone have easy access to Abraham Langford's Highmore Catalogue, which Annette mentioned?

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think it should be necessarily expected that this lady was Scottish, although that is possible. The picture was presumably part of the collection acquired by Frederick Sharp, who may have bought it thinking it was a portrait of the famous Peg Woffington. In other words, there need not be any Scottish connection apart from the fact that the picture wound up in a country house in Fife, as did Dutch pictures Sharp also collected.

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a large 1990 book on Highmore by Warren Mild, 'Joseph Highmore of Holborn Row' published in Ardmore , Pennsylvania which can be consulted both in the British Library and National Art Library.
Lugt's Repertoire presumably records the whereabouts of copies of the 1760 Langford sale catalogue. It is now online

Martin Hopkinson,

The Harvey Kreitman library at the Tate has a copy of the 5 March 1762 not 1760 Highmore sale catalogue [held by Langford]
Jacqueline Riding's 2012 thesis [not book] was at York University. Her most recent publication is the exhibition catalogue 'Basic instincts' for the Foundling Museum - not covering all the artist's portraits
Alison Shepherd Lewis' 1975 2 vol Harvard thesis can be consulted at the National Portrait Gallery

Osmund Bullock,

Just to clarify that the 'Catalogue of the Genuine and Entire Collection of Pictures of Mr Joseph Highmore' is not a catalogue in the 'catalogue raisonné' sense. As Martin says, it is the sale catalogue (by the Covent Garden auctioneer Abraham Langford) of Highmore's art collection, when in 1761/62 the artist gave up his studio and retired to Canterbury. There were certainly some paintings of his in it - perhaps the "13 celebrities" if he retained their portraits - but the majority will (I assume) be works by other artists.

Jacqueline Riding,

As far as I know Highmore did not paint Peg Woffington. A majority of the paintings in his sale catalogue are by Highmore and Woffington is not listed. I'm not convinced by the attribution to Highmore, but I would need to see it.

Kim Churton,

National portrait gallery london has 40 plus works of engraver John cochran i no he was the formost 19thcent minature artist who did works of all the royals queen vic an nobility threw europe so could be a good source to investigate

Edward Stone,

The collection has kindly given us permission to post a higher resolution version of the image on this discussion. Please find it attached below.

1 attachment

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.