A Portrait of “Aunt Smith”

March 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm (people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )


Mary’s mother, Eliza Gosling (née Cunliffe), died at the end of 1803; less than two months later her only sister Mary Smith (Mrs Drummond Smith) died. Poor Lady Cunliffe! Two daughters, then no daughters. Her grief was the subject of a letter written by Mrs Piozzi (Hester Thrale, as she was when Dr. Johnson and Mr Boswell knew her).

This portrait, from a 1913 issue of The Connoisseur, is based on the ‘famous’ Reynolds’ portrait which hangs in Castle Ashby (still in the Northampton family, as in Emma’s youth). It was confused with having been done by Romney well into the 19th century, but is probably the portrait begun before her marriage (1786) to Drummond Smith — Augusta Smith (Emma’s mother) paternal uncle. In the book Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete catalogue of his Paintings (2000), we read:

“Painted 1786-87, wearing a vast hat with soft crown, the brim decorated with lace ‘curtains’, the height of 1780s fashion. There are appointments with Miss Cunliffe in 1786: June 19 (at eleven o’clock), 23 (midday), July 3, 7 and 10 (at one). She was married on 12 July and had two more appointments that year on Aug. 1 (at one) and Nov. 20 (midday). Further appointments are recorded in 1787: Mar. 12 (midday), 15 (two sessions, at eleven and at 12), June 12 (at eleven), 14 (eleven thirty), 16 (at one), Aug. 22 and Dec. 17 (both midday). There is one further appointment with either Mr or Mrs (not clear) Drummond Smith on 16 June 1789 (midday). A payment of 100 gns is recorded in the Ledger in July 1788 (Cormack 1970, 164). This picture passed as a Romney in the nineteenth century.”

This picture – or I should say the copies of the original in etchings and whatnot – has been long found online. As well, the girlhood picture of her is easily come by. Including at the National Portrait Gallery.

It was difficult, therefore, to READ about a portrait, offered through Sotheby’s in 2003 (which failed to sell then) and not SEE it. But now it’s been found!

Every source keeps attributing this portrait to Thomas Phillips. A rather ‘unknown’ name to me.

Phillips seems to have come to London in 1790, and by 1796 was painting nothing but portraits. He was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1804 — a fateful year for many: Mary Smith died that February; Drummond Smith became a baronet some months later.

I would be interested in hearing from Costume Experts to see if this could be dated. Unfortunately the picture I have you cannot read the legend in the lower right of the picture, which may answer such a question. The curiosity for me is the black lace: it makes me think of mourning (though the red is not in keeping with that, obviously).

For me, I look at the FACE: how much did she resemble her sister?

To see the purported artist, see NPG (including one self-portrait).

Since Drummond (Charles’ great uncle, from whom he inherited the baronetcy in 1816) was not a baronet until after “Aunt Smith’s” death, unless this sitter is as in contention as its painter, this must portray Mary Smith rather than Sir Drummond’s second wife (married in 1805), the widowed Elizabeth Sykes. Anyone with any information to give on this sitter – contact me!

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