Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Fortescue of Credan 1690c.

Garret Morphy (d.c.1715)

Portrait of Lady Fortescue of Credan, Garret Morphy
Oil on canvas
17th Century
12 x 15 inches 31.7 x 38.6 cm
Private Collection
Label with erroneous identification verso: Charlotte Fortescue - daughter of the Rt Hon James Fortescue Married Sir Henry Goodricke who died in 1802 he was great nephew to Mr Goodricke of G[.]

The traditional identification of this sitter as a Lady Fortescue is confirmed by the existence of a further portrait by Morphy of the same sitter (Pyms Gallery, London), originally in the collection at Castle Howard. The composition in this latter example is expanded, and shows the sitter reclining on a blue gold-trimmed couch with matching drapery behind. In this second portrait Lady Fortescue is holding a white dove in her left hand, in a manner that recalls the portraits of the Duchess of Portsmouth by Henri Gascars.

The Pyms Gallery portrait has been traditionally identified as a Lady Fortescue of Credan, and although previously uncorroborated this identity now seems confirmed by the discovery of the present portrait. Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin1 regard the identification as Lady Fortescue of Credan problematic, since Grace Pratt, half-sister of Charles Earl Camden married John Fortescue-Aland, a judge created Lord Fortescue in 1746, in 1700. If the Pyms Gallery portrait is intended as a marriage portrait, as the presence of a dove often suggests, a date of c.1700 might seem too late stylistically. Grace Lady Fortescue died before 1721, when Fortescue-Aland married again, and his second wife Elizabeth Dormer was only born in 1691 and so would be far too young to be the sitter in this portrait. Lord Fortescue was succeeded by his third son who died in 1780, when the title became extinct. Yet the two paintings bear separate identifications as a Lady Fortescue, and for the moment it does not seem impossible that they are portraits of the young Grace Pratt Lady Fortescue of Credan.

Garret Morphy was arguably the first painter in Ireland to produce work to a standard comparable with the painters of London and Edinburgh, and to maintain a thriving independent practise. His roots are not obscure, but neither is his early training known. In 1673 he is recorded as working with Edmund Ashfield in London2. This places him in a Roman Catholic circle of painters, as Ashfield had been an assistant of John Michael Wright, and it was from among the Catholic gentry and aristocracy that Morphy drew the mass of his patrons. Although he is most immediately associated with Ireland, the early decades of his career seem mostly to have been spent in England, in the catholic heartland of the North. In 1686 he painted a portrait of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle (Private Collection) and two years later fell foul of the authorities in York for wearing his Jacobite sympathies too openly3.

Morphy's travels up to the year 1694 - when he painted Lady Shelburne in Dublin - are not known - but it is likely that he divided his time between England and Ireland. At this date Chester was a busy port for the Dublin traffic and Morphys circle of interrelated patrons - Talbots, Molyneuxs, O'Neills and Bellews - had interests on either side of the Irish Sea. John Fortescue-Aland was an English lawyer, but his mother brought into the family the estates of the Aland family of Waterford and it was from their possession of Credan, a headland on the east shore of Waterford Harbour, that he took his title when raised to an Irish peerage in 1746. Lady Fortescue's father was a colleague of her husband, and both - to Fortescue-Aland''s subsequent concern when the Prince succeeded his father in 1727 - found for King George I over the difficult question of whether he or his son the Prince was responsible for raising the Prince''s children.

The fact that George Vertue never refers to Morphy in his notebooks is usually taken as proof that Morphy did not return to London in the 1690s. He made his will, describing him as ''of the City of Dublin, painter''4 on November 1st 1715, which was proved on May 12th in the following year. The only other near-contemporary reference to him comes with an advertisement in the Dublin Evening Post June 15th - 19th no.99 for a picture sale in Dame Street that includes ''several portraits of the gentry of this kingdom done by the famous Mr Murphy.''5

In style Garret Morphy appears to be the child of several fathers. Critics have seen enough similarity between his early work and that of Gaspar Smitz to propose Smitz as Morphy''s teacher, but Morphy''s work demonstrates an eclecticism that shows he was susceptible to and aware of many influences in the London art world of the 1670s. Henri Gascars was painting in the capital between 1672 and 1678, and it is the pose and the stylised, intricate lacework of Gascars that is most apparent in portraits such as Lady Fortescue. Although he claimed not to admire his work, Morphy was also clearly influenced by the postures of Sir Peter Lely, which were widely available for copy either from the paintings themselves or from prints. The atmosphere in Morphy''s work, however, is his most conspicuous debt to John Michael Wright, and his paintings are often invested with the same intangible air of enchantment, and they convey to the spectator the same sense of bearing an allegorical interpretation that just escapes the wit of the observer to elucidate.

1. Anne Crookshank, the Knight of Glin and William Laffan Masterpieces by Irish Artists 1660 - 1860 Pyms Gallery, London
2. Memorandum Book of Ozias Humphrey 1777 - 95 MS Add. 22 950 p.8 cited in Jane Fenlon Garret Morphy and his circle ''Irish Arts Review 1991/92 p.135
3. Fenlon 1991/92 quoting Portland MSS vol III p.411
4. W.G. Strickland A Dictionary of Irish Artists reprinted Dublin 1989 vol. II p.131
5. Ibid.
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