Seeking Miss Knight

February 11, 2010 at 6:14 pm (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , )

After a bit of time away from research, I have been pushing myself to get restarted on this very exceptional project. And where better to start than (more or less) at the beginning. If we count only Mary and Emma (rather than their parents or grandparents – who, let’s face it, must come into the equation), then the beginning is the early eighteen-teens, specifically 1814 for Mary’s earliest diary and 1815 for Emma’s.

Mary’s earliest diary, if I haven’t mentioned it before, concerns a trip to visit her elder brother at Oxford. All of her diaries at this early date (ie, when she was unmarried) are trips taken with her family. Emma’s earliest diary is an actual day-to-day journal. She is breathless in describing not so much what she feels but what ALL family members do — this is eight siblings plus Mamma Smith (plus various aunts and uncles, and two cousins). So it was with her diaries that I began — rereading them, correcting obvious typos, commenting on what I now recognize for visitors. The secret key to the diary — to this entire project — is the identification of people. And there are so many of them!

Of keen interest, of course, are those artists, musicians, actors that Emma mentions. They “did” the season in London, every year moving from Suttons (in Essex county) to Portland Place. Emma, being the second eldest girl, mentions all the social calls and events elder sister Augusta encountered. So between all family members, and the Goslings (who, living next door, are also in town for the season) Emma’s social calendars are quite full of everyone’s activities.

She also mentions when the “unordinary” happens — like her mother have her portrait done. The year is 1816. A Miss Knight comes, but of course there is little information; until you go and search for it. Turns out Mary Ann Knight was fairly well-known (not a surprise, as the Smiths and Goslings both patronized the ‘well’-known everything). She has not much of an internet presence, but I did find a short (very short) bio and two drawings done by her. One of her sitters is none other than Joanna Baillie — and guess who, at this period, was consulting Joanna’s brother Dr. Baillie? Mrs Smith, as well as Augusta Smith! Small world… One could wonder if Joanna recommended Miss Knight to the Smiths — but Miss Baillie’s portrait post-dates this period. Find her portrait, and that of Robert Owen, both by Miss Knight at The National Galleries of Scotland. By clicking on the photos you will bring up information on the sitter(s) as well as the artist (scanty as it is).

One interesting side note (especially as the Baillie portrait seems the most ‘famous’ one of her – it’s on all the book covers): This style of a well-drawn face, with color added, but a (slightly) less-sketched-in-torso very much recalls to mind the one portrait I have of Fanny (Smith) Seymour: could sister Augusta, who is thought to have done the picture, have done it in Miss Knight’s style, or was this “all the attention on the face” something in vogue at the time???

The burning question, however, is: What ever happened to Mrs Augusta Smith’s portrait??



  1. jams said,

    I came across your page while researching the Concert of Antient Music series. It’s an extraordinary project, for sure!

    This bit about the portraits is intriguing. I don’t know too much about amateur portraiture in the regency era, but it was certainly a popular thing to do (adding detail and color to the face and leaving the rest more sketchy, that is) in the later decades of the 18th century. Possibly the most famous painting in that style is the one of the delegates to the signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War by Benjamin West. I’m not sure if that’s kind of what you mean or not.

  2. jams said,

    Then again, on second thought, it’s possible that it wasn’t a style at all in West’s painting, but that he didn’t ever finish it.

    But I seem to remember seeing portraits like the kind you described from that era.

  3. Janeite Kelly said,

    Dear Jams,

    Thank you for thinking this project extraordinary; indeed, I am quite grateful to have found it! It all began with one diary, of six trips (Mary Gosling’s travel diary, written in 1814) and the wealth of information that still exists from various members of the extended family is, in itself, extraordinary. Such survival doesn’t happen often.

    I found a GREAT article (published in the early 20th century, I think) specifically on the Ancient Music concerts. I will email you the title and a link. I’m pretty sure I found it on

    Miss Knight made a living at doing miniatures and portraits; that places her out of the ‘amateur’ status (where Emma and Augusta Smith would be; also the likes of Diana Sperling, whose work — from the delightful book MRS HURST DANCING — I feature in my talk entitled “Georgiana Darcy and the Naive Art of Young Ladies”).

    From the diaries, it sounds like the sitter sometimes visited the artist (ie, at their studio, as with Beechey’s Gosling portraits), but also sometimes hosted the artist who came to your home for a certain number of days.

    There is a famous portrait of Mozart (by his brother-in-law Lange), which remained unfinished. The portraits of Miss Baillie and Mr Owen (only seen by me online) resemble the one of Fanny Smith attributed to her sister Augusta in that there is color added only to the face and hair; but the body (and its costume) is only suggested by lines (no shading). They could be seen as ‘unfinished’, but more likely that hasty sketch with a bit of color in the one important area, the sitter’s face, was a deliberate artistic choice.

  4. Mark said,

    I have Augusta Smith’s diary of 1798, the year she is married to Charles Smith.

    Some highlights:

    The Goslings attended her wedding at her father’s house.

    She sat for a portrait that year. She lists the artist’s name.

    The Curries visited them and “returned to Bath”.

    They were constantly entertaining – traveling to Castle Ashby, the Vynes, etc.

    But, the most interesting is her cryptic comments:

    “a question decided” etc.

    Thanks for the great web site. We have had the diary for a long time, and I have just been able to now decipher who wrote it!

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Mark. As you will know – if you’ve read your email – this is just TERRIFIC news!

      A brief word about the “cryptic comment”: “a question decided” — Augusta’s sister Eliza, who married William Chute (of The Vyne, in Hampshire) in 1793 wrote in a similar vein. I’m pretty confident that this must be her decision on marrying Charles Smith…

      Look forward to hearing more from you!


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