Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Frances Montagu (d.1788) 

Charles Jervas (1675–1739)

Portrait of Lady Frances Montagu (d.1788), Charles Jervas
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
94 x 54 inches, 238.7 x 138 cm
English Private Collection
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Charles Jervas was one of the leading portrait painters of the early 18th Century. Jervas was born in King’s County, Ireland, in 1675, but is recorded by Vertue as being Godfrey Kneller’s assistant in London by the 1690s. At this time Kneller’s studio was the closest thing England had to an academy of art. Jervas’ early and obvious proficiency soon earned him enough money to embark on the then essential ‘grand tour’, taking in Paris and Rome, where he became a voracious copyist of the old masters. It is in Rome that we first hear of the confident bombast that gained him both admiration and criticism on his return to London in 1708; ‘Poor little Tit!’, Jervas remarked having completed a fine copy of a Titian, ‘How he would stare!' And yet, Jervas’ self-confidence must have been deserved, for Tatler remarked in 1709 that he was 'the last great painter Italy has sent us'.

Jervas gained the patronage of many of the ruling and intellectual elite, most notably Sir Robert Walpole and Alexander Pope, whom he taught to paint. While Jervas admitted his lack of confidence in drawing he was particularly admired for his fresh and bold use of colour, not least in drapery and costume, which can be seen in the rich blue velvet of this example. Indeed, Jervas’ heavy impasto in the detailing of the dress here (the survival of which is testament to the condition of this portrait) suggests that painting drapery was something Jervas particularly enjoyed. In 1723 he was appointed to the post of King’s Painter by George I – his status as Kneller’s successor seemingly assured – a position he retained under George II.

This portrait is one of the earliest and most impressive depictions of eighteenth century wedding wear. It shows Lady Frances Montagu in the bridesmaid’s dress she wore to the 1734 wedding of George II’s eldest daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, to William IV, the Prince of Orange. The detail and complexity of the dress suggests us that the painting was commissioned as much to show the latest fashion as it was to show the sitter.
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