Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of a Lady, previously identified as ‘Lady Cockburn’, wearing a gold dress with lace trim decorated with pearls and sapphire, her hair worn curled and powdered and decorated with white ostrich feathers 1785

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait miniature of a Lady, previously identified as ‘Lady Cockburn’, wearing a gold dress with lace trim decorated with pearls and sapphire, her hair worn curled and powdered and decorated with white ostrich feathers, John Smart
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Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 50mm (2 in.) high
 
Provenance:
Christie’s, London, 8 March 1995, lot 155 (saleroom notice identifying the sitter as ‘Lady Cockburn’); Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 1995; Private Collection, Germany.
Original gold frame (Indian).

As it has not been possible to find comparable images of a ‘Lady Cockburn’ from this date the sitter cannot be verified with any certainty. She may have been the wife of Sir William Cockburn (1768-1835), who served as lieutenant colonel in India 1790-1802.[1]

A comparison between this portrait and cat.22 (both dated 1785) demonstrates how successfully Smart was to transfer the sparkling sophistication of London fashions to Madras. The sitter’s pose and dress are almost indistinguishable, but the unmistakable patina of humidity on the present sitter’s skin is in contrast to the cool, matt complexion of the lady in cat.22. The sitter in the present portrait also wears her hair slightly flatter at the sides, the trend for wide curls perhaps yet to reach India. Smart clearly won ample work on arrival in Madras and continued to use this pose into the following year. In an important double commission for Sir Charles and Lady Helena Oakeley, dated 1786, Lady Helena adopts a matching pose to both cats. 22 and 24, a wide-brimmed satin hat over her powdered hair.[2]

[1] Smart painted Sir William in 1786 and 1791.
[2] The pair sold Christie’s, London, 27 March 1984, lot 290 and previously exhibited British Portrait Miniatures Exhibition, Edinburgh 1965 (232).

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