Lot 71
  • 71

SIR WILLIAM BEECHEY, R.A. | Portrait of Miss Mary Payne, later Mrs. Dolphin, full-length, in a white gown and holding a thrush as an eagle swoops toward her, in a wooded landscape

60,000 - 80,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Beechey
  • Portrait of Miss Mary Payne, later Mrs. Dolphin, full-length, in a white gown and holding a thrush as an eagle swoops toward her, in a wooded landscape
  • signed with monogram and dated, lower left: WB 1820[?]
  • oil on canvas
  • 92 1/2  by 57 in.; 235 by 144.8 cm.


Mrs. Dent;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 29 February 1896, lot 85, as "La Colombe sauvée: Portrait of Miss Mary Ann Payne, daughter of George Payne, Esq., afterwards Mrs. Dolphin," for 375 gns.;
Sir Julius Wernher, 1st Bt. (1850 - 1912), Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, in the Drawing Room, and by inheritance to his widow, Alice, Lady Wernher, subsequently Lady Ludlow (1862 - 1945);
Thence by descent to their son, Sir Harold Wernher, 3rd Bt., G.C.V.O. (1893 - 1973), Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, in the Private Dining Room, and by descent in the Wernher family;
Their sale, London, Christie's, 7 July 2000, lot 85;
There acquired.


London, Royal Academy, 1827, no. 86, as "Lilian."


W. Roberts, Sir William Beechey, R.A., London 1907, pp. 166, 276;
Luton Hoo Inventory, 1913, p. 23, no. 87, in the Drawing Room.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This large work has been well restored. The canvas has a glue lining which is nicely stabilizing the paint layer. Like many English portraits from this period, the work is technically quite complex. The artist had made changes in some areas, which has caused cracking. For example, there are numerous separation cracks in the white wrap in the lower left. Pentimenti in the elbow of her right arm have also caused some cracks, and this cracking can also be seen to a lesser degree in the golden color in the lower right, next to the dress and wrap. There is unevenness in the darker colors, particularly in the center and upper left. The paint layer is very slightly abraded in a few areas, but retouches have been sparingly applied. There are two groups of retouching addressing some thinness in the lower left side of the dress. There are retouches in the center of the left edge, and small retouches here and there in the dark colors on the left side, particularly in the center closer to the figure. The figure herself shows a few retouches in her cheek, a couple in her right forearm, and some isolated dots in the dress. However, the condition is generally very good for a work of this kind. Further retouching could be applied to a few areas, but the work could also be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Sir William Beechey studied under Johan Zoffany at the Royal Academy in the 1770s, and also drew inspiration from the elegant portraiture of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Beechey's style earned him the attention of the royal family: he became court painter to Queen Charlotte in 1793 and was knighted by King George III in 1798 for his impressive double portrait of the King and the Prince of Wales. Beechey would go on to work for Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, and at the end of his career was portraitist to King William IV. The present sitter, Miss Mary Payne, was the daughter of Thomas Payne (not George Payne as stated in the 1896 sale) and Mary Payne, of Edstaston House, Grosvenor Square, London. Mary's widowed mother gave her permission to marry Vernon Dolphin of Eyford Gloustershire on 16 July 1822, when Miss Payne was still a minor. She later divorced Dolphin and married French Général Davesiès de Pontès, to whom she had been engaged before her first marriage.

The unusual subject of the painting, with Mary holding a thrush in her arms and guarding it from an eagle, was inspired by Henry Hart Milman's 1818 epic poem Samor, Lord of the Bright City. Set in the fifth century C.E. during the Saxon invasion of Britain under Vortigern, High King of Britain, the poem includes a passage that matches how Beechey has depicted Mary Payne:
           "Up the maiden gaz'd
            Smiling a pale and terrified delight,
            And seem'd for that lov'd warbler in her breast
            Beseeching mercy."1
If the date following Beechey's monogram does indeed read 1820, this portrait was completed before Mary Payne's marriage to Dolphin, when she was quite young. Beechey has combined the full-length grandeur and elegance of royal portraits with loose brushwork on Mary's gown and a dramatic wooded backdrop that helps evoke the legendary quality of Milman's poem.

1. H.M. Milman, Samor, Lord of the Bright City, 1818, p. 73.