I’ve Found My Girl!?!

April 13, 2010 at 3:03 am (a day in the life, books, fashion, news, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , )


Is this the face of MARY GOSLING, as she appeared in 1817???

The “missing” portrait, painted by Sir William Beechey evidently in the spring and summer of 1817, turned up on the cover of the journal Early Music in 1985. In the citation it is called “The Sisters” and information is given that it is in the collection of the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia. In their own brief description of the work, they name the sitters Ann and Augusta Coventry. But, for several reasons, I question this attribution.

The Beechey book does list payment by a Mr Coventry for his daughter or daughters. Mr Coventry’s first name is never mentioned, though (assuming it the same man!) once his initial, “J.”, is used. On March 16, 1808 is the first entry, which reads: “Of Mr. Coventry (as half), for a half length containing two portraits of his daughters.” Then, on June 29: “Of Mr. Coventry (as last half), for Miss Coventry’s portraits.”

Now there can be a case made for a misprint: Miss Coventry’s being in reality Miss Coventrys’ — but what if the first entry contains the misprint and there’s some one picture with two portraits of the same sitter, only one Miss Coventry?! That is my pet theory — and I’m sticking to it! Nevertheless, where are the names Ann and Augusta from?

To continue on with Mary and Elizabeth, however…

The Beechey book lists payment made for Mary and Elizabeth in 1817: on April 11th (first half payment) and August 8th. Mary, therefore, would be only 17 and Elizabeth, born in April 1798, just past her 19th birthday.

The online description of Beechey’s “Master Gosling” (a toddler portrait of the Gosling’s eldest son, William Ellis) quoted the description of the girls’ portrait as “Mary and Elizabeth Gosling sitting at a box piano”. The claim is that it was sold, at Sotheby’s, in 1958 (lot 54; sale of February 19, 1958 in London).

Having just received (thank yous will appear shortly!) a description of this work, as it was when hanging at Suttons in 1920, I have two further items of evidence to put forward. One, that Elizabeth holds a copy of music (as indeed is the case here, when you view the entire portrait); and two, that “frills” were painted on the low-neckline of Mary’s dress by Elizabeth (Gosling) Christie when Mary’s son Charles was young — and the “frills” remained, though Charles later spoke of having them removed. So here is a portrait, of two girls at a box piano; there is sheet music in the older girl’s hand; and there ARE frills on the younger girl’s neckline!!!

I’ve some additional digging to do (by contacting Sotheby’s and/or the Huntington {Jan2012 note:  new HMOA link, which seems to have removed the image of The Sisters}) — but that will come in future days and right now — right NOW! — I can’t sleep for having the thought that I’VE FOUND MY GIRL!!!

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2 Comments

  1. Ron said,

    Apologies if you have already investigated this, but I can confirm that this is indeed a painting of Mary Gosling, later Lady Smith and her sister Margaret Elizabeth Gosling, later Mrs. Christie.

    I have copied below, an extract from ‘The Christies of Glyndebourne’, which I believe, I sent to you a while ago.

    ‘My mother was a good pianist, and her master, the great Cramer, dedicated a piece of music to her. This she is holding in her hand in the picture of herself and her sister Mary, afterwards Lady Smith, painted by Sir William Beechey and now at Suttons. With regard to this picture Charles lost both his parents when a child, and his good aunt, who brought him up, thought that he ought not to see too much of his mother, for the dresses are cut rather low, so she had frills painted in which still remain, though Charles in later years often talked of having them removed.’

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Ron! Nice to hear from you again.

      Ah, if only it were that simple… That paragraph – of course! – had me salivating. It also points up a problem: the Suttons portait was sold at auction AFTER the museum’s purchase!

      It begs the question, Were There TWO portraits of the girls? (ie, a copy – either by Beechey or not) Or was Beechey in the habit – not unheard of – of painting several sitters in VERY similar poses???

      If a copy – was it to have a portrait that EACH sister had? Or was it copied for more than one of Mary’s children? Last seen — as the Christie books say, at Suttons, with no mention of Glyndebourne.

      Remains a mystery at present – solved, maybe, if the auction house kept a photo. But the Suttons Beechey was at auction in the 1950s…. Yet, as mentioned above, Huntington already had been gifted with their copy.

      k

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