Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Emma, Countess of Tankerville (1752-1836) 

Daniel Gardner (c.1750-1805)

Portrait of Emma, Countess of Tankerville (1752-1836), Daniel Gardner
Pastel on paper
18th Century
27 ¼ x 20 1/8 in (69.2 x 51.1 cm)
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Daniel Gardner was leading English pastellist of the eighteenth century, and is best known for his child portraits. He began his career under the tuition of George Romney, his fellow Cumbrian. After some time as Romney’s assistant, he entered the Royal Academy schools, and later joined Joshua Reynolds’ studio, from where he adopted certain aspects of Reynolds’ ‘Grand Manner’. His independent practice began in the early 1770s. Gardner did not mix easily with his fellow artists, who viewed him as parsimonious, but he did form a close friendship with the young John Constable, introducing him to Lakeland scenery and the skills of portrait painting. When painting a portrait, Gardner, perhaps subject to over-sensitivity, refused to allow his sitters to see the work in progress, and used a specially constructed easel with locking shutters.

The subjects of this picture are Emma, Countess of Tankerville, with her two daughters, Caroline and Anna. Lady Tankerville was the daughter of Sir James Colebrooke, 1st Bt., of Chilham Castle in Kent, and was a leading plant enthusiast. She amassed a large collection of exotic plants, including the ‘Nun’s Head’ orchid from China, now known in her honour as Phaius Tankervilleae. Throughout her collecting career she commissioned a number of artists, including Daniel Ehret, to paint over 680 illustrations of her plants. These paintings can now be found at Kew. The prominence and depiction of the flowers in this portrait by Gardner is unusual, and was doubtless intended to refer to Lady Tankerville’s interest.

Emma married Charles Bennet, fourth Earl of Tankerville in 1771. Lord Tankerville was a leading cricketer and early supporter of the game. He was a member of the White Conduit Cricket Club, which later merged with the Marylebone Cricket Club, and he sat on the Committee at the Star and Garter tavern in Pall Mall which devised some of the most important modern laws of Cricket, including the LBW rule. Something of an eccentric (he devoted most of his retirement to creating a large collection of shells), Tankerville spent a great deal of money on cricket, both in the form of gambling and sponsoring teams. He employed two talented cricketers amongst his domestic staff, William Bedster acted as his butler, while the better known Edward Stevens (one of the best bowlers of his generation) was a gardener at Tankerville’s estate in Walton-on-Thames, Mount Felix. It was at Mount Felix that Emma Tankerville built up her collection of exotic plants. They had eight children, the eldest two being portrayed here; Caroline married John, 1st Baron Wrottesley, by whom she had five sons and four daughters, while Anna married the Hon. Rev. William Beresford, son of 1st Baron Decies.
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