Portraits: British 18th C 42 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
Martin Hopkinson,

Does the collection have any information on this portrait's provenance?

Martin Hopkinson,

Could it be an early work by Alan Ramsay? Compare the gesture in the full length portrait of Mrs Daniel Cunninghame [National Galleries of Scotland]? Could it date from the very late 1730s?

We have a 1938 inventory that only states the painting is 3/4 length portrait of a Lady in a White Dress - as Shepherdess; English School 18th century. There is no visible signature on the painting either. There are some bills of sale, but not for every painting. I will check to see if we have a receipt. There are, unfortunately, no other family archives. We do know Sharp was collecting to furnish the house and the dining room was designed to show off the Chippendale suite. The English portrait would have suited this room admirably. I will try to find the painting receipt next week when I am at the property. thanks all for your helpful comments. Antonia, Curator NTS

Martin Hopkinson,

For the lamb compare that in the very early Ramsay of Lady Jane Douglas [private collection] dated to c. 1735 by Alastair Smart, Allan Ramsay .A complete catalogue of his paintings, 1999, pl.1 p. 101 no 138
This another portrait of a woman as a shepherdess

If the NTS' s painting is by Ramsay it is very likely to be of a Scottish sitter ,because of its date

Martin Hopkinson,

Duncan Macmillan in Edinburgh should be asked to look at this portrait

Martin Hopkinson,

also Mungo Campbell of the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgo

The archive does not have any convincing evidence that this painting was completed by Highmore or that the sitter is Peg Woffington. The 1938 inventory after Frederick Sharp's death listed the painting as 'Portrait of a Lady' and suggested the Highmore attribution was 'doubtful' although 'similar' to Highmore's style.
There is also little suggestion this is by Ramsay as the Sharp's were careful about keeping the receipts for the high value paintings; and there seems to be no receipt for this portrait.
I would like to organize a meeting at Tarvit to look into the painting - and will do this in the new year.
Thanks again for all your comments. A Laurence-Allen, Curator, NTS

Tamara Cartwright-Loebl,

I can't claim any special expertise here but at first place I thought this was the portrait of Elizabeth Knight from Clandon Park. On checking, the resemblance is quite striking - https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/elizabeth-knight-16921731-lady-onslow-216869

In passing, it is interesting that people have suggested a hint of Spanish in the current portrait as this was suggested of Elizabeth Knight in her lifetime, possibly by way of euphemism, as she came from a Jamaican plantation family.

Daouda Sy,

Lady Pamela.....epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson

Jacinto Regalado,

This is not one of the 12 Highmore pictures drawn from Richardson's Pamela (which are evenly divided between the Fitzwilliam, the Tate, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia).

Jacinto Regalado,

In pursuit of my hunch that Thomas Hudson could be the painter, I found a 1744 engraving after Hudson's portrait of Mary Carew which is not identical but certainly very similar:


It is also at the British Museum, which adds that the lady was from Crowcombe in Somerset, almost certainly a daughter of Sir Thomas Carew of Crowcombe Court (where Hudson's original may remain).

Our picture may well be of a different lady, but the pictorial "formula" obviously points to Hudson.

Jacinto Regalado,

Various artists painted ladies as shepherdesses during the same period, of course, but what seems especially suggestive about the 1744 print of Miss Carew is not so much that conceit but the handling of the lamb, down to the garland round its neck. I would attribute our picture to Thomas Hudson, ca. 1740 (unless a costume expert cares to be more precise).

In addition, here's a portrait in a very similar pose and dress to our picture attributed to Thomas Hudson:


Jacinto Regalado,

Jacqueline Riding has already commented previously on this thread. She said she was not convinced by the attribution to Highmore but would need to see the painting. The National Trust for Scotland has also commented previously to the effect that the Highmore attribution is weak and doubtful.

Jacinto Regalado,

On second thought, the portrait I linked in my prior comment, albeit similar, is less accomplished than ours, so it is probably by a different hand.

Louis Musgrove,

Surely the picture of Mrs Ewing is the same Lady in the picture under discussion- but a few years older!

Jacob Simon,

Two-and-a-half years since the last comment in this discussion, "Who is the sitter in this portrait by Joseph Highmore?" There is general agreement that she is neither Kitty Clive nor Peg Woffington. I think the answer to the discussion question is "We don't know who is represented". And we are not sure that it is by Highmore.

Which rather suggests that the 1938 inventory title is the right one: "A Lady in a White Dress as a Shepherdess" (NTS, 28.11.2017).

Jacob Simon,

Another two years have passed. There is general agreement that this portrait depicts neither Kitty Clive nor Peg Woffington. I think the answer to the discussion question is "We don't know who is represented". Which rather suggests that the 1938 inventory title is the right one: "A Lady in a White Dress as a Shepherdess" (NTS, 28.11.2017).

Louis Musgrove,

Our sitter—- Look at Miss Hudson. (Daughter) at the NPG.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion dates from 2017 and asks “Who is the sitter in this portrait by Joseph Highmore?”, a portrait called Peg Woffington. It belongs to the National Trust for Scotland at Hill of Tarvit Mansion house. The Trust identified the portrait in a 1938 inventory as a “3/4 length portrait of a Lady in a White Dress as Shepherdess; English School 18th century”, an inventory that also noted that the Highmore attribution was doubtful (28/11/2017, 15/12/2017).

THE SITTER. Doubts were immediately expressed about the identity by contributors to the discussion. There is general agreement that she is neither Kitty Clive nor Peg Woffington. And that the identity will be difficult to establish.

THE ARTIST. Reservations were also expressed about the artist attribution to Joseph Highmore, not least by the Highmore expert, Jacqueline Riding (21/11/2017). Other names that have been advanced include Allan Ramsay (26/11/2017) and Thomas Hudson (08/09/2018). In my experience, having mounted exhibitions on both artists, our portrait cannot reasonably be attributed to either artist.

The discussion has since largely petered out. All this rather suggests that the 1938 inventory title is the right one: "A Lady in a White Dress as a Shepherdess". And that the artist should be designated, “Unknown British school”. Or if the collection prefers “Unknown British school, formerly attributed to Joseph Highmore”. There is not enough evidence to suggest that this fine portrait is Scottish.

On this basis, subject to any further collection input, I am recommending as the acting group leader for 18th-century portraits that the discussion should be closed.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

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