PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
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
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.
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