Copy after Thomas Gainsborough (British, mid-19th century)
Oil on canvas
17 1/4 x 13 7/8 in. (43.8 x 35.2 cm)
Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914
Not on view
The sitter was the elder of Thomas and Margaret Gainsborough’s two daughters. Aside from a brief, unhappy marriage, she lived out her life with her parents and then with her sister, Margaret (1751–1820). Both sisters, but particularly Mary, became increasingly eccentric, if not mad, with age.
Gainsborough painted a number of portraits of the girls together when they were young: The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly (National Gallery, London), possibly left incomplete about 1756; The Painter’s Two Daughters (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), The Painter’s Daughters with a Cat (National Gallery, London), and a fragmentary picture, Margaret Gainsborough Gleaning (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), all from about 1758 to the early 1760s; and Portrait of the Artist’s Daughters (Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts), about 1763–64.
The portrait heads in The Painter’s Two Daughters were separated in or after 1833 and rejoined, probably between 1873 and 1875, before entering the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The present painting more or less replicates the portrait of Mary on the left side of that work, and since 1972, probably on the basis of Ellis Waterhouse’s opinion (1948–50), the Museum has identified the painting as a copy. It has been called autograph by Oliver Millar, Malcolm Cormack, and Robert Wark (verbal opinions of 1964, 1978, and 1980, respectively). John Hayes (1980) was also inclined to accept it, judging from a photograph, but Graham Reynolds (verbal opinion of 1983) identified it as a good copy made while the two halves of the London canvas were separated, which seems the most logical conclusion.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Morris K. Jesup, New York (until d. 1908); Maria DeWitt Jesup, New York (1908–d. 1914)
Fort Worth Art Center. "Spectrum: A Cross Section from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," March 8–April 12, 1970, unnumbered cat.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "European Paintings in the Jesup Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (May 1915), p. 94, ill., as a portrait of the artist's daughter by Gainsborough, "similar to the head of the same child in the famous picture . . . in the South Kensington Museum, for which picture it served in all likelihood as a preliminary study".
Connoisseur 78 (June 1927), ill. opp. p. 84, as the painter's daughter Margaret.
E[llis]. K. Waterhouse. "Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough." Walpole Society 33 (1953), p. 44, as a version of the head on the left of the Victoria & Albert Museum picture, "a copy by a later hand".
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), pp. 5, 39, ill., as "The Painter's Daughter Mary," by Gainsborough.
John Hayes. Letter to Dean Walker. April 29, 1980, finds that "although the paint surface seems to be very variable and I am not sure why this is, the portrait is perfectly genuine," but hesitates nevertheless to commit himself entirely from a photograph.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 115–16, no. 51, ill. (color).