Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Miss Kennedy wearing white dress and ermine-trimmed plum cloak draped over her left shoulder, her dark hair loosely braided and partially upswept 

Ozias Humphry RA (1742-1810)

Portrait miniature of Miss Kennedy wearing white dress and ermine-trimmed plum cloak draped over her left shoulder, her dark hair loosely braided and partially upswept, Ozias Humphry RA
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval 42 mm (1 5/8 in) high
 
Provenance:
With Mr E. Joseph; Christie's, London, 13 June 1890; With Ernest Renton by 21 June 1890 (purchased for £13/10/-); Bonhams, London, 20th November 1997, lot 60.
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Born in Devon, Ozias Humphry travelled to London at the age of fifteen and enrolled at St. Martin’s Lane School on the advice of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1760 Humphry was apprenticed to the miniature painter Samuel Collins, although Collin’s expensive lifestyle soon saw him flee to Dublin to avoid creditors which is why, presumably, Humphry then relocated to Bath. It was once again on the advice of Reynolds that Humphry returned to London where he began exhibiting at the Society of Artists and became acquainted with the other leading lights of the era. In 1772 a fall from a horse left Humphry’s career in the balance and he decided to take sojourn to Italy with painter George Romney, exhibiting at the Royal Academy a few years after his return.

After a brief period spent in India in the mid-1780’s, Humphry returned to London, where, faced with increasingly failing eyesight, he gave up portrait miniature painting and instead focused on working in other mediums, and was appointed portrait painter in crayons to the king. Sadly, following the 1797 Royal Academy show, Humphry’s eyesight failed completely, and in 1810 he died in lodgings set up by the widow of his former pupil Henry Spicer.

The identity of Miss Kennedy is somewhat of an enigma, although it is generally accepted that she was a courtesan and mistress of Hon. John St. John (d.1793), brother of Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke (1732-87).
The present work was once considered to be a portrait of Mary Sackville, Countess Thanet (1746-78), on the basis of a comparison with a miniature by Humphry in the collection of Lord Hothfield, however, although their costume is the same, the physiognomy is quite different and it was almost certainly just a case of Humphry relying on a stock pattern. Instead, Humphry has taken the head-type of Kennedy as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1770 [Private Collection], and has produced an entirely separate composition in which Kennedy, sitting contra-posto with her shoulders angled in the opposite direction to her head, appears to be caught mid-movement. Humphry frequently relied on the work of Reynolds by re-producing and re-imagining the master’s work ‘in little’ as a way of expanding his clientele.
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