John Downman (1750 - 1824)
- Portrait of a Lady
- Black chalk, stump and wash with white heightening on paper
- Object size: 22.5 x 19 cm
Image size: 21 x 16.5 cm, in an oval mount
- Signature: 'J. Downman Pt 1783.', the 't' in superscript
- Not on display
- The four small oval portraits by John Downman (1750-1824) in the Wallace Collection (see P751, P753 and P754) are typical examples of his work from the early 1780s, when he became one of London’s leading portraitists of the aristocracy. It appears that Downman was commissioned to produce a series of family portraits by the 2nd Marquess of Hertford. Labels on the reverse of the frames suggest they were framed, as a set, in Paris, where they were probably in the collection of the 3rd Marchioness of Hertford, before passing to her son, the 4th Marquess of Hertford.
Downman’s particular technique for these designs – in which he would use graphite, chalks and stump (a drawing tool, used for blending and smudging) to make a sketch of the sitter and then add colour to the reverse of the drawing in chalk or watercolour, which would show through the sheet in softly muted tones – created the distinctive effects for which he is known. His decision to abandon oil painting in favour of chalk drawing was undoubtedly related to the contemporary vogue for pastel portraits, although his particular use of the medium was an innovative development of the conventional practice.
The sitter of P753 is unidentified. In 1924, the art writer D. S. MacColl identified the sitter as Elizabeth Ingram Shepheard (d.1817), the second youngest sister of the 2nd Marchioness of Hertford, based on a perceived resemblance between the sitter and that of the 2nd Marchioness, as portrayed in P754. More recently, it has been suggested that the portrait might instead depict one of the 2nd Marquess of Hertford’s two sisters (see P31 and P33), as he also sat for Downman in 1783 (now in the collection at Ragley Hall). The fact that P753 is also dated 1783 (unlike the other portraits in the series, which are all dated 1781) would seem to support this identification.