half length, wearing a white dress, with a gold scarf, holding a letter in her left hand
George Blamire, sold by his executors, Christie's, 7th November 1863, lot 30 ('Sir W. Beechey - A young lady as Evelina'), bt. Pennell for £52.10;
Francis Broderip, sold by his executors, Christie's, 6th February 1872, lot 680 (J. Hoppner - Portrait of a Lady holding a letter. A Charming Example'), bt. Samuel Addington for 255 gns;
Sold by the executors of Samuel Addington, Christie's, 22nd May 1886, lot 62 ('Sir W. Beechey, R.A. Portrait of a Lady as Evelina'), bt. Colnaghi for £945, from whom purchased by Sir Charles Mills, Bt., Lord Hillingdon, and thence by family descent
The Times, 24th May 1886;
Catalogue of the Furniture, Porcelain & c. at Camelford House, Park Lane, The Town Residence of Lord Hillingdon, compiled 1891, privately printed, p.44 (in the Red Drawing Room);
W. Roberts, Sir William Beechey, R.A., 1907, p.219
This beautiful portrait dates from the 1780's, a decade in which Hoppner rose rapidly in public esteem, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy and becoming in 1789 Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales. Sir Ellis Waterhouse pointed out that Hoppner "is forever reminding us of the work of one or other of his greater contemporaries, at first of Reynolds and Romney, and later of Lawrence and Raeburn", and this portrait is closely influenced by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Several of Hoppner's early works, such as his portrait of Lady Elizabeth Bligh, could easily be mistaken for that of Reynolds.
The traditional title for the portrait is 'Portrait of a Lady as Evelina'. Evelina or A Young Lady's Entrance into the World was a novel by Fanny Burney published in 1778. It tells of the beautiful Evelina who was abandoned when a child by her father and brought up by a guardian. She goes to London where she falls in love with the handsome Lord Orville and is eventually recognised by her father as his heir. It was enormously popular and amongst its admirers were Dr. Johnson, Burke, Gibbon, Sheridan and Reynolds.
Before it was bought by Lord Hillingdon in 1886, the portrait was in three distinguished collections. The first was that of George Blamire, described as 'barrister-at-law of Adam Street, Adelphi and Carlisle'. His executor's sale in November 1863 ran for two days, and the seventy-three pictures offered for sale were a wide ranging group including works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Jan Steen and van der Werff. It included two fine still-lives by de Heem and Rachel Ruysch, and the most expensive lot was an important altarpiece by Francesco Francia from S. Giobbe in Bologna. The portrait sold for £52.10 and it is interesting to note that it fetched more than two works from the collection which are now in the National Gallery, Coup de Lance by Rubens and Ecce Homo by Rembrandt. The portrait next appeared at auction as part of the celebrated Broderip collection, sold by the executors of Francis Broderip in February 1872. The collection had been built up by the lawyer and naturalist William Broderip, whose catholic tastes included an interest in seventeenth Century Dutch and Flemish paintings as well as early Victorian paintings, and who owned Holman Hunt's Hireling Shepherd. Francis Broderip continued to collect and the sale in 1872 included several fine works by Turner, as well as important early Victorian pictures.
The portrait was bought by Lord Hillingdon at the sale held by Samuel Addington's executors in 1886. Addington was a keen collector of miniatures and prints (he owned fine proofs for Turner's Liber Studiorum), as well as of paintings and watercolours. He was also an enthusiastic collector of Sevres porcelain, a passion which he shared with Lord HIllingdon. As fellow collectors they would certainly have known each other. The sale in 1886 comprised forty-nine watercolours and fifty-one oil paintings and included five watercolours by Turner, as well as works by Cox, Landseer and Nasmyth. The Hillingdon portrait fetched amongst the highest prices of the sale, being exceeded only by a Hobbema and an important Nasmyth landscape.
The present picture drew praise from the correspondent of The Times in 1886: "Of the oil paintings, a portrait of a lady as Evelina, with dark dishevelled hair against a sky background, life-size to waist, by Sir W. Beechey, R.A., which had been universally admired during the week, was the subject of a sharp contest between Mr. Joseph and Messrs. Colnaghi, which resulted in its bringing the very high price of £945."
It is interesting to note that the picture was once attributed to Sir William Beechey. It is an accomplished and sophisticated composition, quite different in style to what Beechey was painting in the 1780s. Beechey worked in Norwich from 1782 to 1787, when most of his work was of small scale pictures, owing a debt to Zoffany. It was only later when he became established in London that his paintings move closer to the more glamorous images of Lawrence and Hoppner. When sold as part of the celebrated Broderip collection in 1872, it was correctly attributed to Hoppner.
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