Lot 65
  • 65

Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A. Plympton, Devon 1723-1792 London

300,000 - 500,000 USD
1,440,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A.
  • Portrait of Miss Jacobs
  • three-quarter length, seated and looking down to her left; wearing a blue gown, pearls in her upswept hair and a single strand pearl necklace, and holding a bouquet of flowers in her lap
    oil on canvas

  • 36 by 28 3/4 in.; 91.4 by 73 cm


Anonymous sale, "Portraits, Fancy pictures Studies and Sketches by the late Sir Joshua Reynolds," London, Greenwood's, April 15, 1796, lot 14, there purchased for £12.12 s. by the Marquess of Hertford;
Thence by descent to Hugh, 6th Marquess of Hertford, from whom purchased after 1890 by
Charles John Wertheimer, London;
W.C. Whitney, New York;
Mrs. H.P. Whitney, New York;
Mrs. Samuel A. Peck, New York:
By whom given to the Toledo Museum of Art in 1953 (Acc. no. 53.42).


London, Royal Academy, Works of the Old Masters..., 1872, no. 50;
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., 1883, no. 79;
London, Guildhall, Loan Collection of Pictures, 1890, no. 102;
Possibly, London, Grafton Galleries, 1894, Fair Women (reproduced in volume of illustrations only);
Miami, Center for the Fine Arts, In Quest of Excellence, 1984, no. 77.


A. Graves and W.V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., London 1899-1901, Vol. II, p. 511, Vol. IV, reproduced opposite p. 1376 (as painted in 1761);
W. Armstrong, Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1900, p. 214;
E.K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London 1941, p. 49 (as painted in 1761);
Toledo Museum of Art, Museum News, October 1953;
The Toledo Museum of Art, European Paintings, Toledo 1976, p. 137, reproduced Plate 309;
J.D. Morse, Old Master Paintings in North America, New York 1979, p. 238;
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, New Haven 2000, Text Vol., p. 277, no. 995, Plates Vol., reproduced figure 587.

John Spilsbury, January 1, 1762 (as "Miss Jacob");
R. Houston.

Catalogue Note

By the time Reynolds painted this charming, graceful and somewhat enigmatic portrait of Miss Jacobs, he had already established himself as the leading portrait painter in London with only Allan Ramsay as his peer and serious competitor.  Despite their rivalry, Reynolds had absorbed some of the older artist’s style, and this Portrait of Miss Jacobs displays some of the elegant, French sensibility that Ramsay had introduced into British portraiture.  Miss Jacobs is depicted sitting in a chair, wistfully gazing downward while absentmindedly holding a bunch of flowers in her lap.  In its relaxed elegance, it is typical of a number of portraits of pretty, fashionable young ladies that Reynolds painted in the late 1750's and early 1760's.  These more informal paintings were in contrast to the very grand court style portraits he was also painting, and their appeal must have been broad.  The number of attractive girls coming in and out of the artist’s studio at the time aroused comment by his contemporaries, one gentleman asking the artist how he might “resist the allurements of the beauty which daily exhibited itself in his painting room" to which the artist answered he— like a laborer’s hand— had "grown callous by contact with beauty1."    

The identity of the sitter in the present portrait— although most certainly one of these beauties— has remained somewhat mysterious.  There is no record in Reynolds’ appointment book for a sitting for a Miss Jacobs, although the painting was engraved by John Spilsbury in a print published in January 1762 where the sitter is identified as “Miss Jacob.” She is named “Miss Jacobs” in the 1796 auction when the painting was purchased by the Marques of Hertford.   Speculation about her continued; when the portrait was exhibited in 1883 she had acquired the fanciful sobriquet of “The Blue Lady” and it was suggested that she was a professional singer.  Graves and Cronin stated that her father was a medalist, while Waterhouse, suggests that her first name was Esther2.   

Whatever her exact identity, it seems most likely that Miss Jacobs was in fact a paid model, particularly given the absence of any mention of her in Reynolds’ daybook  This  was first suggested by Edward Hamilton who noted that she “probably was either of the class of Miss Kitty Fischer [sic], or a model.”  Certainly the observation was an apt one; the Portrait of Miss Jacobs is similar in tone and composition to the portraits of Kitty Fisher that Reynolds was painting at this moment3,  although this would surely not be enough evidence to class her as a demimondaine.   It seems likely that despite his protestations to the contrary, Reynolds painted her because she was beautiful, either for his own enjoyment or for sale to a client.  Her appeal to collectors remained potent; the picture was purchased by Francis Ingram Seymour-Conway (1743-1822), 2nd Marquess of Hertford, who also purchased Reynolds’ great Portrait of Nelly O’Brien still in the Wallace Collection.  The picture was later owned by William Collins Whitney, where it hung in his New York residence on Fifth Avenue (see fig. 1).


1  C.R. Leslie & T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1865, vol I, p. 430.

2  In a manuscript note in his copy of Graves and Cronin (Paul Mellon Center, London).

3  See for example the Portrait of Kitty Fisher in a private collection (D Mannings, Reynolds, illus. p. 302, fig 618, cat no. 613) where the sitter is shown in the same semi-profile pose, her hands resting in her lap and seated in a similar, if not the same, studio chair.