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


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.

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.