Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Emily Bertie Pott (died 1782)

George Romney (British, Beckside, Lancashire 1734–1802 Kendal, Cumbria)

Oil on canvas
29 3/4 x 24 7/8 in. (75.6 x 63.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1958
Accession Number:
  • Catalogue Entry

    William Hickey [Memoirs of William Hickey, ed. Alfred Spencer, 3rd ed., vol. 2, 1921, pp. 248–58, 313; vol. 3, 1925, pp. 127, 139–40; vol. 4, 1925, p. 488 n. 250, p. 489 nn. 137–40, p. 491 n. 342] wrote that Emily Bertie was the beautiful daughter of a blind beggar and first came to his notice in 1776. In addition to Hickey, she seems to have numbered among her protectors Messrs. Coventry and Warren (names by which she was also known), as well as Charles Greville. Hickey's friend Robert Pott of the East India Company commissioned her portrait from Romney, then took her with him when he sailed for India, where she died at sea in May 1782. Pott died in India in 1795, leaving the Romney portrait of Emily to his brother, the Reverend Joseph Holden Pott.

    According to John Romney [see Ref. Romney 1830], in 1781 his father “painted a three-quarters portrait of the beautiful Emily Bertie for Mr. Pott.” John Romney also noted that Emily had been the sitter for Reynolds’s Thaïs (Rothschild collection, Waddesdon), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781, an identification that is now universally accepted. Ward and Roberts [see Ref. 1904] recorded Romney’s appointments for sittings with a Mrs. Pott in 1781, assuming, however, that the sitter was not Emily but Robert Pott’s mother. In September 1783 Romney received £21 from Pott for a portrait of Mrs. Pott.

    The Museum’s portrait was first identified as Romney’s Emily Bertie in a 1930 exhibition in London, at which time it was said to have been bought in India after Pott's death by a Danish collector and to have remained in his family [see Ref. Furst 1930]. The presumption must therefore be that Spink, the London dealer who lent the picture in 1930, purchased the canvas from Hans Christian Theodor Wolff-Sneedorff, who had owned it in 1908, and that he in turn had received it in 1866 at the death of his father, Benjamin Wolff, a merchant who traded in Calcutta between 1817 and 1828. However, Pott is said to have bequeathed Emily’s portrait by Romney to his brother, while Wolff-Sneedorff did not know the identity of the sitter in his portrait and supposed it to be by Reynolds. On grounds of style, this canvas might reasonably be dated to 1781, and the sitter does resemble the Emily Bertie of Reynolds’s Thaïs, but in the absence of further information there may be no more to the story than that Spink knew Wolff-Sneedorff’s father had lived in India, where a portrait of Emily Bertie Pott by Romney once had been.

    [2010; adapted from Ref. Baetjer 2009]

  • Provenance

    ?Benjamin Wolff, Calcutta and Engelholm, Tappernøje, Denmark (bought in India between 1817 and 1828, until d. 1866); his son, Hofjægermester Hans Christian Theodor Wolff-Sneedorff, Tappernoje (by 1908, probably until d. 1924); [Spink, London, until 1930]; [Knoedler, New York, 1930–34]; Jessie Woolworth (Mrs. James P.) Donahue, New York (1934–58)

  • Exhibition History

    Copenhagen. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. "Ældre Engelsk Kunst," 1908, no. 35 (as "Dameportræt," by Sir Joshua Reynolds[?], lent by Hofjægermester Wolff-Sneedorff).

    London. Olympia. "Ideal Home Exhibition," April 1930 (as Emily Bertie, lent by Spink).

  • References

    John Romney. Memoirs of the Life and Works of George Romney. London, 1830, pp. 178–79, observes that in 1781 Romney "painted a three-quarters portrait of the beautiful Emily Bertie for Mr. Pott, who took her with him to India, where they both died"; that he "also began a full-length of her in a recumbent posture, which was never finished" and that afterwards he gave the head to his pupil, Isaac Pocock; believes that Reynolds's Thais also represents Emily Bertie.

    Hilda Gamlin. George Romney and His Art. London, 1894, p. 132.

    Herbert Maxwell. George Romney. London, 1902, p. 96.

    George Paston. George Romney. London, 1903, p. 191.

    Humphry Ward and W[illiam]. Roberts. Romney: A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works. London, 1904, vol. 1, pp. 94–95; vol. 2, p. 11, note that Romney painted Emily Bertie (or Pott, or Coventry) in 1781; record appointments for sittings with a Mrs. Pott on February 25, March 3, 10, and 17, April 20, and May 8, 1781, and a payment of £21 in September 1783 from Mr. Pott, but suggest that the sittings probably apply to a portrait of Robert Pott's mother.

    Arthur B. Chamberlain. George Romney. New York, 1910, p. 101.

    "Current Art Notes: Ideal Homes." Connoisseur 85 (May 1930), p. 331.

    H[erbert]. F[urst]. "Shorter Notices." Apollo 11 (May 1930), p. 398, ill. opp. p. 363, observes that after Robert Pott's death the portrait of Emily Bertie "was bought in India by a Danish gentleman and it remained in his family, in Denmark, until now".

    Illustrated London News 176 (April 5, 1930), p. 569, ill. (color), as Emily Warren, Pott, Bertie, Coventry, lent by Spink to the Ideal Home Exhibition.

    Barry Maclean-Eltham. George Romney: Paintings in Public Collections. Kendal, England, 1996, p. 48.

    Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 128–29, no. 57, ill. (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History