Anonymous Woman

May 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm (fashion, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Instead of humming The Guess Who’s American Woman, I should really be channeling These Eyes

Working on an article about the “London Season” in 1816 — or, should I say the Season that Emma Smith recorded — I was looking for any image of work by Mary Ann Knight. She is the artist whom Mamma Smith sits to that spring.

Miss Knight (1776-1851) painted the well-known portrait of Joanna Baillie (see the portrait at Scotland’s National Galleries) and evidently produced works in watercolor, miniature, and sometimes even oils. This leads me to wonder if the “miniature” once said to exist at Suttons of Mrs Charles Smith might not be this painted by Miss Knight. But that is mere speculation.

The above is obviously not a woman in her 40s, but (as the title suggests) a “Girl in a White Dress“. When I found this miniature my first thought was that the nose rather looked similar to those portraits I have of Emma and her sister Fanny (the future Emma Austen Leigh and Fanny Seymour); the hair, with its ringlets curling around the face and the remaining hair swept up at the back of the head was reminiscent of the hair style worn by Fanny in a portrait her sister Emma or more probably Augusta may have drawn. Taking a short-cut I checked my “portrait wants” on this website. Alas! a mistake in typing a date lead me to wonder — to dare hope — that this Girl might be AUGUSTA SMITH (later Augusta Wilder). When I could not FIND Augusta’s sitting in 1817 (as I had typed) I went on a search of  the letters and diaries and finally located the sessions in 1822! Groan… (sloppy! the correct date was in my computer files, so it was a transcription error.)

The dating of this work is c1815; two years is one thing; but seven makes it very doubtful that this could POSSIBLY be my little Augusta.

Like SOOOO many portraits and miniatures, this one survived but is nameless: Who WAS THIS YOUNG WOMAN??? Those limpid eyes really grab me; making me wish I could give her an identity.

The artist, Miss Knight, is described as the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. She trained with Andrew Plimer — who later married her sister! “Knight’s surviving notebooks record some 696 miniatures which she painted between 1802 and 1835 and sold at two to forty guineas each.” The National Galleries think her “sketchbooks reveal an impressive range of sitters.”

Where ARE these notebooks?

More on Miss Knight’s biography in a later post.

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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??

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