Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Lady Margaret Janet Fordyce (later Lady Margaret Burges) (1753-1814), holding a book, wearing white dress with frilled, standing collar and bandeau, drop pearl earrings, seascape background 

Anne Mee (née Foldsone) (c.1770/75-1851)

Portrait miniature of Lady Margaret Janet Fordyce (later Lady Margaret Burges) (1753-1814), holding a book, wearing white dress with frilled, standing collar and bandeau, drop pearl earrings, seascape background, Anne Mee (née Foldsone)
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 95mm (3 3/4 inches) high
The Property of a Gentleman, Christie’s, London, 11 November 1986, lot 202.
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The present portrait was probably painted as a pendant to the portrait of Lady Margaret’s sister, Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825), also by Anne Mee.

Lady Margaret was the second daughter of James, 5th Earl of Balcarres and 30th Lord Lindsay of Crawford. In 1770, she married Alexander Fordyce (1729-89), who at the time was an exceptionally successful banker with a large estate at in Scotland and at Roehampton, Surrey, on the outskirts of London. At the time of her marriage Margaret was painted by Thomas Gainsborough, her red hair piled high under a plumed hat.

Shortly after she was married, her husband’s fortune suffered a rapid decline and his bank stopped payment. On June 9 1772, the day before he fled to France, he was reported to have come home in wild spirits, saying that he had "always told the wary ones, ‘and the wise ones, with heads of a chicken and claws of a corbie, that I would be a man or a mouse; and this night this very night the die is cast, and I am . . . am . . . A man! Bring Champaign; and Butler, Burgundy below! let tonight live for ever! . . . Alexander is a man.’"

He then fled, leaving his partners in the bank to be declared bankrupt. This caused widespread panic in both London and Edinburgh (and later Europe), with other private banks also failing in the wake of ‘Neale, James, Fordyce and Down’. In September of 1772, James returned to London to face the commissioners, his personal shortfall declared at over £75,000. Fordyce died in 1789, his widow then moving to London to live with her sister, Lady Anne Lindsay (later Barnard).

There are two possible dates for the portraits, the first being when the sisters shared a home from 1789 until Lady Anne’s marriage in 1793. Based in London, the artist Anne Mee would have had access to the two sisters, painting them the year before she began working at Windsor Castle at the request of the Prince of Wales (later George IV, with whom both sisters were well acquainted). The second possible date, perhaps more likely in the circumstances and bearing in mind the background of the portraits, would be just prior to Lady Anne’s departure to South Africa in 1797. In 1793, Anne married Andrew Barnard, who in 1797 accepted the offer of the colonial secretaryship in the Cape of Good Hope. The ships shown in the background of both portraits may refer to the voyage on which Lady Anne was about to embark. Although the significance of the book held by Lady Margaret is unknown, Lady Anne was a consummate artist and writer and it may have held her notes and sketches. The miniatures were therefore likely commissioned to provide comfort during the years that the sisters were apart. The costume of the two sisters is also consistent for a date in the closing years of the eighteenth century.

Lady Margaret’s second marriage, at the age of fifty-eight in 1812, was to Sir James Bland Burges (1752-1824), who later took the additional name ‘Lamb’ as a condition of inheritance. Margaret and James had been childhood sweethearts, their attachment immortalised in Lady Anne’s ballad Auld Robin Gray. Lady Anne was not discovered as the writer of this ballad until 1823, when it had become nationally famous. Her reasons for writing the ballad reflect her close friendship with her sister; ‘My sister Margaret had married, and accompanied her husband to London; I was melancholy, and endeavoured to amuse myself by attempting a few poetical trifles.’

The ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ of 1814 records Lady Margaret’s death at the age of sixty-one. Her will, dated 15 December 1814, is held at the National Archives, Kew.
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