Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Marie Dolignon, Mrs Philip Dauncey (b.1769), 1789 

James Northcote RA (1746–1831)

Portrait of Marie Dolignon, Mrs Philip Dauncey (b.1769), 1789, James Northcote RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Lewis and Simmons, London 1919; F. Kleinberger, New York 1924; North sale Christie''s July 11th 1930 (lot 131) Bt. Frank Sabin; Christies July 10th 1953 (lot 151) as a portrait of ''Lady Mary Lygon'' Bt. Bellesi;
Stephen Gwynn Memorials of an Eighteenth Century Painter (James Northcote) London 1898 no.248 International Studio November 1926 p.36 Ill. when with Kleinberger Jacob Simon The Account Book of James Northcote Walpole Society LVIII 1995/6 pp. 21 û 125 no.270 fig.43
We are grateful to Susan North, Curator of Textiles and Fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum for her assistance in cataloguing this portrait.

This striking portrait of a young woman is as much a portrait of her costume as of herself, and is dominated by the very tall hat draped in an almost-sparkling pink fabric. Women’s fashion in the late 1780s was characterised by hats of considerable size, frequently hung with veils and ribbons or decorated by feathers. The principal society portraitists all leave a remarkable record of such hats in their work of this period, though few are quite as breathtaking as the present example. In Gainsborough’s oeuvre the fashion is represented by, for example Lady Petre 1787 (Huntingdon Collection, San Marino) and Unknown Lady perhaps Elizabeth Hallett 1788 (Historical Portraits, London). Sir Thomas Lawrence depicts similarly extreme fashions both in his drawing of Mrs James Denham 1789 (formerly with Historical Portraits) and, showing a tall-crowned hat like Miss Dolignon’s in his portrait of the Mistress of the Robes Mrs Papendiek (Royal Collection) drawn in the same year during a break from painting his portrait of Queen Charlotte (National Gallery, London).

Marie Louise Dolignon was a member of London’s numerous and industrious Huguenot community, and her name is recorded in the register of the French church, Threadneedle Street for her baptism on August 23rd 1769. Her father John Dolignon was a wine merchant in Mincing Lane. Her mother Elizabeth was also from a Huguenot family, being the daughter of Isaac Delamere and Mary Vautier. She married Philip Dauncey of Little Horwood Park, Buckinghamshire, most probably at around the date that this portrait was painted, and a portrait such as this would most probably be commissioned for an engagement or marriage. No portrait of Dauncey by Northcote is listed, but it would appear that his services were again required thirty years later to paint a copy of Mary Dolignon’s portrait for the sitter’s daughter, as the account book for 1819 lists a commission from ‘Miss Dauncey’ a ‘Coppy of the portrait of her mother’ for twenty guineas (Simon p.104). This, by reason of inflation, was more than the price of the original. Northcote was conspicuously less expensive than Reynolds or Lawrence, and in 1789 the portrait of Mary Dolignon cost fifteen pounds fifteen shillings, or fifteen guineas, Northcote’s standard price for ‘a head’ on a thirty by twenty-five inch canvas.

1. Dr Aileen Ribeiro so describes this style in Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715-1789, Yale, 2002 p.236 citing Mrs Papendiek’s hat as her example.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.