Portrait of Mrs Moody [c.1767 - 1820], wife of Samuel Moody
Oil on canvas: 50.2(h) x 40.2(w) in /
127.6(h) x 102.2(w) cm
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Dalton-in-Furness, Lancashire 1734 – 1802 Kendal, Cumbria
Portrait of Mrs Moody (c.1767-1820), wife of Samuel Moody
Oil on canvas: 50¼ x 40¼ in / 127.5 x 102.2 cm Frame size: 59 x 49 in / 149.9 x 124.5 cm
Painted in 1786
Commissioned by the sitter’s husband Samuel Moody (1733-1808) JL Rutley;
Christie’s, London, 3rd July 1875, lot 71 (180 gns to Graves) WS Stirling Crawfurd (1819-1883) and by inheritance to his wife, Caroline, Duchess of Montrose (1818-1894);
her estate sale, Christie’s, London, 14th July 1894, lot 37 (400 gns. to Mrs John Gardner); Mrs John Gardner George R Balch Sotheby’s, London, 17th November 1976, lot 122
Private collection Christie’s, London, 22nd November 1985, lot 130;
The Collection of Lex Aitken and Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez, Sydney, Australia
London, Burlington House, Old Masters Exhibition, 1882, no.38 (lent by WS Stirling Crawfurd) London, Grafton Gallery, Fair Women, 1894, no.195a
Hilda Gamlin, George Romney and His Art, London 1894, pp.203-4
Sir Herbert Maxwell, George Romney, London 1902, p.184, no.276
George Paston, George Romney, London 1903, p.196
Humphrey Ward and William Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of His Works, New York 1904, vol. II, p.108
Alex Kidson, George Romney, A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, vol. II, New Haven and London 2015, pp.415-6, no.911, illus. in colour
On 26th April 1786 the eighteen year-old Mrs Moody, Miss Mary Paterson until her marriage two months previously to the fifty-three year-old widower Samuel Moody, paid her first visit to George Romney’s studio in Cavendish Square. The moving force behind this visit was no doubt her husband’s: four years earlier he had commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint the portrait of his first wife with their two young sons: now for his new bride he chose an artist who would provide an exercise in contrast. His second wife – who was to be little liked by her step-sons – would give Samuel Moody four more children and would outlive him by twelve years, dying in 1820 in her fifty-third year.
Eight months, eleven sittings and two cancelled appointments later, Romney had completed Mary Moody’s half-length portrait, for which he charged his normal fee of 40 guineas. Mr Moody paid half this fee the day before his wife’s second visit on 3rd May – which was probably her first actual sitting – and the balance on 28th December, three weeks after her final appointment. The pattern of these transactions, overlooking the somewhat exorbitant number of sittings, was regulation Romney: the epitome of his practice in the mid-1780s, when his business was thriving and he delivered an instantly recognisable cutting-edge product in the Babel of the London portrait market.
Yet if the commission proceeded on predictable lines, if the size of canvas was a standard one and the pose selected was a stock favourite, and if the structure of the sittings played out normally (with the bulk of the work being done in the first ten weeks, followed by a long gap before two finishing sessions, a profile one encounters endlessly in Romney’s oeuvre), that does not mean that the end results were routine. Beneath the surface of the portrait lay hidden currents and private agendas.
1786 was a key year in Romney’s career. His visit to Rome between 1773 and 1775 in order to study the works of antiquity and the great masters of the Renaissance had paid off: since his return to London he had forged a brand of tony neo-classicism – based on the use of high, light colours, shallow pictorial space, and the casual technique of ‘drawing with paint’ that are all seen to fine effect in Mrs Moody’s portrait – that threatened to make his rivals Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough seem out of touch with modern taste. Now came the inception of his idea, developed with literary friends, for a gallery of British history paintings on subjects from the plays of Shakespeare that ultimately became the momentous Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Romney’s own contributions to this, first contemplated during the course of the year, were to be the ultimate test of his long-held ambitions to be a painter of the imagination, ambitions of which few of his artist colleagues were aware. To them, Romney would have appeared immersed in his portraits: an impression which would only have been confirmed had they known that in 1786, he took more sittings from clients than in any other year of his life. To outward appearances he was at the very height of his fashion. Even as he strove to break free from his ‘curs’d portrait painting’, paradoxically the muse of portrait painting hugged him ever closer.
At the heart of this paradox lay Romney’s true muse, Emma Hart: the future Lady Hamilton and at the beginning of 1786 the mistress of Sir William Hamilton’s nephew, Romney’s patron and friend Charles Greville. For several years past, in some of his most charged works, Romney had painted Emma in a succession of literary, allegorical and mythological roles in which the boundaries between portraiture and history painting were blurred: now at the beginning of 1786 he conceived her in the character of Miranda from Shakespeare’s Tempest: the acorn from which Boydell’s mighty oak would grow. But Romney scarcely had time to take more than one or two small oil sketches of Emma as Miranda before he lost her: Greville packed her off to Naples to live with his uncle. For Romney, the loss of his favourite model was an acute blow. He dealt with the emotional stress by his normal method, of overworking himself; and here lies most of the explanation for the unparalleled number of sittings he took in 1786. For while he could not control the number of people who wanted their portraits painting, he could demand as many sittings from them as he wanted; spin their portraits out.
So when three weeks after Emma’s departure for Naples, the pretty, eighteen year-old, red-haired Mary Moody walked through the door of his painting room in the company of a man more than twice her age, Romney would not have been human if he had not cast his mind back to his first sittings, less than four years before, with his own auburn-haired, teenaged crush; when he had painted Emma for Greville with a little dog in her lap, and then as Circe, the enchantress of men. If one is minded to seek explanations, with Mrs Moody’s picture, for the unwontedly long drawn-out sittings, for the need for two finishing sessions instead of the usual one, or for the late addition of the little dog, one perhaps does not have so very far to look.
A note on the provenance
In the nineteenth century this painting was in the collection of the celebrated dandy and racehorse owner William Stuart Stirling Crawfurd (1819-1883). In 1876 Crawfurd married Caroline Agnes Graham (1818-1894), the flamboyant widow of the 4th Duke of Montrose, who was an equally fine judge of horseflesh. She raced under the pseudonym ‘Mr Manton’, as an involvement with the Turf was not considered suitable for a lady. The Crawfurds owned a number of Classic winners, notably Sefton, which won the Derby in 1878. The Duchess (as she preferred to be known) inherited Romney’s Mrs Moody when her beloved ‘Craw’ died in 1883. Her 1894 estate sale included two other Romneys, Lady Hamilton as the Magdalen (lot 88) and Lady Hamilton as Ariadne (lot 89). From the 1980s Mrs Moody was part of the collection of the interior designer Lex Aitken and his partner, the fashion illustrator and designer Alfredo Bouret Gonzalez.