According to the 1929 Bache Collection catalogue, Martha, “daughter of Benjamin Rigden, a tradesman, of Faversham, Kent, married clandestinely, on March 20, 1773, Charles Frederick, great-great-grandson of Sir John Frederick, a ‘merchant of great opulence,’ and Lord Mayor of London in 1662.” Charles Frederick (1748–1791) resigned from the British army to join the East India Company and departed for India in 1777. After his death there, his wife and their many children returned to England. The Gentleman’s Magazine mentions her death in 1794.
No sittings for a Mrs. Frederick are recorded in Romney’s register. However, Sir Charles Frederick, her father-in-law, seems to have been painted by the artist early in 1776 (location unknown; see T. Humphry Ward and W. Roberts, Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay, with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Works, London, 1904, vol. 2, p. 58). If the details about the sitter come from the Frederick family, and if she is indeed Martha Rigden Frederick—both of which seem reasonable assumptions—then she most likely sat for Romney between his return from Italy in 1775 and her departure for India in 1777, dates that accord with the style of the work. Her hair and right ear, as well as the costume and background, are loosely finished, without any pretense of detail. Since Romney’s more complex and highly finished small portraits generally required five sittings, the present work may have taken no more than two or three.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]