Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Mrs. Whaley (died 1798, Isle of Man)

Attributed to George Chinnery (British, London 1774–1852 Macau)
Oil on canvas
93 1/2 x 58 in. (237.5 x 147.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Henry S. Morgan, 1947
Accession Number:
Not on view
The sitter's maiden name was Maria Courtney but for some seven or eight years before her death in 1798 in Douglas, Isle of Man, she was known as Mrs. Whaley. She was the constant companion of a wealthy and dissolute young Irishman, Thomas, or Buck, Whaley, by whom she had four children: Thomas, Richard, Ann, and Sophia Isabella. They lived in a house Buck Whaley built on the Isle of Man, where this portrait may have hung in the dining room. The coloring is sober and autumnal and the figure quite withdrawn. The black dress figured with leaves would have been thought elegant and modern. This portrait may have been painted about 1795.
The sitter, born Maria Courtney, met Thomas Whaley (1766–1800) in Dublin between 1789 and 1791. Buck Whaley was a wealthy, dissolute Irish Protestant landowner of legendary exploits. Miss Courtney lived with him until her death in 1798, during which time she was known as Mrs. Whaley. The couple had four children, three of whom survived their father: Thomas and Richard died unmarried, while Sophia Isabella married a Mr. Tayler. In his 1797 memoirs, Whaley described the sitter as “a lady of exquisite taste and sensibility from whom I have never since separated. She has been a consolation to me in all my troubles—her persuasive mildness has been a constant check on the impetuosity of my temper, and at this moment, constitutes, in my retirement, the principal source of all my felicity" (Thomas Whaley, Buck Whaley's Memoirs, including His Journey to Jerusalem, Written by Himself in 1797, ed. Edward Sullivan, London, 1906, p. 270). In January 1800 Whaley married the Honorable Mary Catherine Lawless, daughter of the first Baron Cloncurry; later that year he died at thirty-three. His wife lived on in his house, Fort Anne, near Douglas Head on the coast of the Isle of Man, where she raised his illegitimate children.

The present portrait is said to have hung with one of Whaley in the dining room at Fort Anne. Reportedly, Whaley was painted “in the character of a sportsman,” while Mrs. Whaley was shown “as a lady, in the Mrs. Siddons’ style of beauty" (Green 1887). This could be a reference to the portrait of Siddons (National Portrait Gallery, London) by William Beechey that had been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1794.

Hoppner, who cared less about composition than about characterization, was not always at his best when working at full length. Mrs. Whaley’s overlong, gloved forearms and the shapeless extended oval of her left leg betray his lack of interest in anatomy. The portrait, which is in good state, has not been treated since it came to the Museum. It may date to about 1795.

[2014; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Thomas Whaley, Fort Anne, Douglas, Isle of Man (until d. 1800); ?by descent in the family of his daughter, Sophia Isabella, later Mrs. Tayler (until 1902; sold to Colnaghi); [Colnaghi, London, 1902; sold to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (from 1902); his son, J. P. Morgan, New York (by 1909–d. 1943; his estate, 1943–47; sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, December 13, 1947, no. 373, withdrawn); his son, Henry S. Morgan, New York (1947)
London. Paul & Dominic Colnaghi. May 1902, no. 5 (as "The whole length portrait of Mrs. Whaley, the wife of 'Buck Whaley'").

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Collection of J. P. Morgan: Exhibition of Paintings for the Benefit of the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy, Inc.," November 23–December 11, 1943, no. 34.

Henry Green. Knutsford: Its Traditions and History. 2nd ed. Manchester, 1887, pp. 140–41, notes that two portraits hang in the dining room at Fort Anne, one of Whaley and "the other, it is said, of his wife,—he in the character of a sportsman, and she as a lady, in the Mrs. Siddons' style of beauty"; adds that the two pictures "have recently been repaired and reframed".

Edward Sullivan, ed. Buck Whaley's Memoirs, Including His Journey to Jerusalem. London, 1906, pp. xxiv–xxv, states that the portrait hung with one of Whaley himself in the dining room of what had been his house on the Isle of Man, "he in the character of a sportsman, and she in the style of Mrs. Siddons".

W[illiam]. Roberts in Pictures in the Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan at Princes Gate & Dover House, London. Vol. 1, English School. London, 1907, unpaginated, ill.

William McKay and W[illiam]. Roberts. John Hoppner, R.A. London, 1909, pp. 266–67, ill. opp. p. 266, as the property of J. P. Morgan, Jr.

C. H. Collins Baker. British Painting. London, 1933, p. 280.

Maurice Harold Grant. A Chronological History of the Old English Landscape Painters. Vol. 4, reprint, 1971–74. Leigh-on-Sea, 1959, p. 321.

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 185–86, no. 91, ill. (color), tentatively dates it about 1795.

Mary Stratton Ryan (in correspondence of 2013–14) attributes the painting to George Chinnery, who exhibited a portrait of the “Hon. Mrs. Whaley; full length in a Landscape” in an 1800 exhibition of the Society of Artists of Ireland, Dublin. A contemporary critic noted the rose and lily of the valley blossoms in her bosom—details consistent with the present painting. The sitter is Maria Courtney (died 1798). After Whaley’s death, the work was displayed at Victoria Hall, Douglas, Isle of Man, and disappeared about 1899.
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