Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, thought to be Elizabeth Felton, Lady Hervey (1676-1741) c. 1705 1705c.

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portrait of a Lady, thought to be Elizabeth Felton, Lady Hervey (1676-1741) c. 1705, Michael Dahl
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Sir David Erskine Bt (1792-1841) of Cambo, Fife.
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This portrait typifies Dahl’s eloquent depiction of aristocratic women, and reveals why, at his best, he was capable of outshining such contemporaries as Kneller, Richardson, and Seeman. In terms of both draughtmanship and pose Dahl’s female portraits are noticeably softer and gentler than Kneller’s, and thus allow for a greater versatility in the expression of feminine beauty. Dahl’s works are frequently distinguished by a harder and more rigorous attention to the character of the sitter than those of his rivals, and he particularly allowed a softer aspect to the surfaces of his sitter’s costume and drapery. His colours are silvered and luminous, and there is a great charm and sensitivity in the overall expression of the sitter. In this example, the drapery and sitter’s turned head impart a subtle sense of movement, which, combined with the relaxed, even wistful pose helps convey the image of a lady of leisure.

The sitter in this portrait has traditionally been identified as “Lady Harvey”. It seems most likely that the sitter is Elizabeth Felton, second wife of John, 1st Earl of Bristol, whom Dahl is known to have painted through an engraving by John Simon (National Portrait Gallery). The similarities in likeness between the engraving and the present picture, most particularly the defined, almost sculptural nose, are compelling. Elizabeth Felton was the daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Felton Bt. and would have brought considerable wealth (in addition to seventeen children) to her husband’s estate at Ickworth, Suffolk. She served for a time as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline.
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