The sitter was one of the great courtesans of her day. Little is known of her early life, but she was presumably born Anne, or Nancy, Parsons, the daughter of a Bond Street tailor. She accompanied a slave trader named Horton, or Houghton, to the West Indies, returning to London as Mrs. Horton. In 1763 she was the mistress of Augustus Henry FitzRoy, third Duke of Grafton, and later, in 1769, of John Frederick Sackville, third Duke of Dorset. In 1776 she married Charles Maynard, second Viscount Maynard, who, at twenty-three, was probably at least a decade younger than she. In 1784 she began an affair with the nineteen-year-old Francis Russell, fifth Duke of Bedford. She is reported to have died in France in the winter of 1814–15.
Waterhouse (1973) and Mannings (2000) have accepted the identification of the sitter, though the picture is not recorded until its appearance on the art market in 1928, as Nancy Parsons. According to the Bache Collection catalogues (1929, 1937, 1943), it had belonged to Frances, Countess of Warwick, granddaughter of the third and last Viscount Maynard. An anonymous, undated print (National Portrait Gallery, London) depicts Nancy Parsons, and she also sat for Gainsborough, but that portrait is lost (see Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London, 1958, p. 80, no. 475). The Scottish artist George Willison painted her in Turkish dress (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), a portrait that was engraved by Ridley as a small oval, in 1771, as Miss P. The present work, like Willison’s, shows the sitter in what an eighteenth-century viewer would have called oriental costume.
According to Mannings (2000), Reynolds recorded three appointments for sittings with Mrs. Houghton in 1767 and seven with Mrs. Horton in 1769. A note on technique at the end of the artist’s ledger dates before January 22, 1770, and seems likely, on account of the color scheme, to refer to this picture (Baetjer 2009, p. 76 n. 6). The state, for a work by Reynolds, is fairly good.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
?by descent to Frances, Countess of Warwick; [Frank T. Sabin, London, until 1928; sold to Agnew]; [Agnew, London, 1928; sold for $125,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; Bache Foundation, 1944–45; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 60; 1943, no. 60; sold to The Met)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 60 (as "Nancy Parsons, Viscountess Maynard").
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Loan Exhibition of Great Paintings in Aid of Allied Merchant Seamen," February 4–March 5, 1944, no. 57 (as Nancy Parsons, Viscountess Maynard, lent by Jules S. Bache).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800," September 9, 2013–January 5, 2014, no. 100B.
Charles Robert Leslie and Tom Taylor. Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds. London, 1865, vol. 1, pp. 278, 282, 347, 430; vol. 2, pp. 41, 54, list Mrs. Horton among sitters in February 1767 and January 1769, noting that the references are either to Nancy Parsons or to the widowed Mrs. Horton who later married the duke of Cumberland; identify with Nancy Parsons a Mrs. Haughton who sat in January 1773.
Algernon Graves and William Vine Cronin. A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A. Vol. 2, London, 1899, pp. 486, 635, 732.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as painted in 1769; from the collections of Viscount Maynard and Frances, Countess of Warwick.
"The Antiquarian's Picture Gallery." Antiquarian 13 (September 1929), p. 37, ill.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, ed. Unknown Masterpieces in Public and Private Collections. Vol. 1, London, 1930, no. 92, ill.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.
Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 340, pl. 228 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 325, pl. 228].
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 60, ill.
Ellis K. Waterhouse. Reynolds. London, 1941, p. 59, pl. 120, as painted 1767/69.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 60, ill.
An American Correspondent. "English Portraits in the Jules Bache Collection." Connoisseur 113 (March 1944), pp. 51, 53, ill.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 83.
David Loeffler Smith. "Great Artists as Teachers." American Artist 29 (September 1965), p. 60, ill.
Malcolm Cormack. "The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds." Walpole Society 42 (1970), pp. 122, 124, 142, on January 19 and after August 27, 1767, Reynolds records payments of £26.5.0 each for a portrait of "Miss Hortoun"; he notes "Mrs. Horton. Con capivi senza Giallo / Giallo (who cancelled) quando / era finito / Di Pingere (prima? cancelled) con Lacca e Giallo quasi solo e poi / Glaze with Ultramarine".
Ellis Waterhouse. Reynolds. London, 1973, pp. 21, 47 n. 48, pl. 48, as probably painted 1767–69, an example of the fact that Reynolds "almost seems to have painted with love . . . the great courtesans of the day".
Aileen Ribeiro. The Dress Worn At Masquerades in England, 1730 to 1790, and Its Relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture. PhD diss., Courtauld Institute of Art, London. New York, 1984, p. 246, pl. 90, observes that her gown is based on oriental dress.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 186, ill.
David Mannings and Martin Postle. Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (The Subject Pictures catalogued by Martin Postle). New Haven, 2000, vol. 1, p. 264, no. 939; vol. 2, fig. 938, as Mrs. Horton, later Lady Maynard (fl. 1764–?1814/15), probably painted 1767/69; observe that the paint surface is thin and the face very damaged; list three apointments with "Mrs. Houghton" in 1767, seven with Mrs. Horton in 1769, and a payment of 25 guineas for "Miss Hortoun" between August 1767 and February 1768; suggest that the technical note may mean "painted using copaiba . . . without yellow; yellow being added when the picture was otherwise finished".
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 74–76, 189, no. 31, ill. (color).
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