When the picture came to the Museum, the sitter was incorrectly identified as Sarah Jennings, Duchess of Marlborough. David Piper rejected this identification in 1962, and Oliver Millar later agreed; Millar also twice affirmed the attribution to Dahl (verbal opinions recorded in departmental files; see also Millar 1972). The arrangement of the figure is typical of Dahl, and the picture is in good state except along the original left edge. Close examination reveals that the canvas, conceived as a three-quarter-length measuring fifty by forty inches (see Additional Images), was extended on all four sides at a very early date, almost certainly while still in the artist’s studio. The odd proportions of the dog may perhaps be explained by the fact that it was painted (apparently by a rather inept assistant) over the join. The work could date to about 1700.
Portraits for which Dahl used this pose in three-quarter length include those of an anonymous sitter (sold, Christie’s, London, April 8, 1998, no. 11), Jane Vernon (photograph in the Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery, London), and Penelope Stonehouse (private collection; photograph in the Heinz Archive). All three show a wall, a column, and a cypress tree against the sky in the background at the left. The angle of the head, the arrangement of the hands and drapery, and the costume and pearl clasp are more or less the same in all. Once Dahl found a formula that suited him, he clearly did not hesitate to use it often.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]