Michael Dahl

Portrait of Mrs Haire

1701

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 768 x 639 mm
frame: 948 x 822 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1991
Reference
T06499

Summary

This portrait is typical of the formula used by Dahl, a Swedish portraitist working in England from 1689, for head-and-shoulder images of women. Mary Haire is presented against a stark background, extravagant lighting casting a prominent shadow to one side. The curve of her neck, enhanced by the dark sweep of hair falling behind, as well as the elegant turn of her head and the lively handling of drapery, are all elements within a tightly controlled composition. Given the limitations of the canvas size, it has been carefully contrived to produce as arresting and expressive an image as possible. Characteristic of Dahl, especially in the 1690s and early 1700s, is his interesting use of colour, sometimes in unexpected shades. Here, the fresh, pale emerald green of Mary Haire's gown (the pigment has probably faded slightly) provides a strong decorative contrast with her white frilled chemise.

In 1701, the date of this portrait, Dahl had a broad range of patrons including members of the royal family, the nobility and prominent court office-holders, as well as London professionals and gentry families. The exact identity of Mary Haire (if indeed the inscription on the reverse of the canvas, which identifies her as such, is correct) remains obscure. The portrait descended in the Wodehouse family which most likely suggests that she is in some way related. The Wodehouses, created baronets in 1611, were a prominent Norfolk family, the main family seat being Kimberley House in the parish of Wymondham.

It is known that Dahl was in Bath in 1701, but presumably only in the summer for his health so it seems unlikely that this portrait was painted there. He probably painted Mary Haire in his London studio in Leicester Fields, in the neighbourhood of the Swedish Legation, which he occupied from 1696 until at least 1725. Although a modest work, the portrait is nevertheless a good example of Dahl's manner at a time when he was in direct competition with the pre-eminent portraitist Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). With her somewhat detached, reflective gaze and graceful solemnity, Mary Haire appears (but on a lesser scale) not unlike Dahl's imposing images of court beauties at Petworth: the work is an interesting instance of Dahl applying a court style to a sitter of a family of more moderate prominence.

Further reading:
Wilhelm Nisser, Michael Dahl and the Contemporary Swedish School of Painting, Uppsala and London, 1927

Tabitha Barber
October 2000

Display caption

An inscription on the back of this portrait identifies the woman as ‘Mary Haire’, but we don’t know exactly who she was. The stark background of the portrait, with its prominent cast shadow, is typical of Dahl. He also often used bright, unexpected colour, such as the fresh pale emerald green; this may once have been even brighter. Dahl was a Swedish painter who trained in Stockholm but settled in London in 1689. He headed a large and successful studio, rivalling Godfrey Kneller’s, and was a favourite at Queen Anne’s court.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

Michael Dahl ?1659–1743

Portrait of Mary Haire
1701
Oil paint on canvas
742 x 620 mm
Inscribed ‘Mrs. Haire.’ bottom right (not contemporary), and on reverse of canvas ‘Mrs
Mary Haire/By Mr Doll 1701’ (probably near-contemporary – references to Dahl as
‘Doll’ occur both within Dahl’s lifetime, and later in the century)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1991
T06499

Ownership history
… ; by descent in the Wodehouse family, later Earls of Kimberley (formerly of
Kimberley House, Norfolk) to John Wodehouse, 4th Earl of Kimberley, Hailstone
House, Wiltshire; sold Sotheby’s, 13 November 1991 (no.32), whence bought by the Tate.

This portrait is typical of the formula used by Dahl for head and shoulder images of women. Mary Haire is presented against a stark background, extravagant lighting casting a prominent shadow to one side. The curve of her neck, enhanced by the dark sweep of hair falling behind, the elegant turn of her head, and the lively handling of drapery are all elements within a tightly controlled composition, carefully contrived to produce, given the limitations of the canvas size, as arresting and expressive image as possible. Characteristic of Dahl, especially in the 1690s and early 1700s, is his interesting and involved use of colour. For example, the original and perhaps unexpected shades used for drapery are sometimes picked up in small touches elsewhere on the canvas, or are mixed into areas of shading, thus enhancing the overall harmony of the composition. Here, Dahl has used a fresh, pale emerald green for Mary Haire’s gown (the pigment has probably faded slightly), providing a decorative contrast with her white frilled undergarment.

In 1701, the date of this portrait, Dahl had a broad range of patrons, including Prince George of Denmark, members of the nobility and prominent court officeholders as well as London professionals and gentry families. The exact identity of Mary Haire (if, indeed the inscription on the reverse of the canvas, which identifies her as such, is correct) remains obscure although the descent of the work in the Wodehouse collection would indicate that she was in some way related to that family. The Wodehouses (created baronets in 1611) were prominent in Norfolk, the main family seat being Kimberley House in the parish of Wymondham, largely ‘augmented and beautified’ by Sir John Wodehouse, MP for Thetford in 1695, 1701 and 1705, and elected knight of the shire in 17101. Sales of pictures from the Wodehouse collection include portraits of direct family members, but also of those related by marriage, sometimes quite distantly - the Wodehouses were clearly keen to demonstrate visually their connection with eminent families and individuals, such as the Countess of Arran and the Duchess of Kent, and the Bacons of Garboldisham.2 Mary Haire was possibly of the family of Hare of Stow Bardolph, Norfolk, and of London, created baronets in 1641, from whom the Hares, Barons Coleraine were also descended. Marriage between two such prominent local families would perhaps be expected, although so far the only discernible connection is marriage into the Savage family of Elmley Castle, Worcestershire3.

It is known that Dahl was in Bath in 1701, but presumably only in the summer for his health so it seems unlikely that this portrait was painted there.4 There is also evidence that Dahl travelled to country houses to undertake commissions. He stayed, for example, at Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire, but his young female sitter failed to keep still and he preferred to complete the commission in London.5 It is likely that Dahl painted Mary Haire in his London studio in Leicester Fields, in the neighbourhood of the Swedish Legation, which he occupied from 1696 to 1725 (the last recorded date).

Although a modest work, the portrait is nevertheless a good example of Dahl’s manner at a time when he was in direct competition with the pre-eminent portraitist Sir Godfrey Kneller. Mary Haire, with her somewhat detached, reflective gaze and graceful solemnity, appears (but on a lesser scale) not unlike Dahl’s imposing images of courtly beauties at Petworth: it is an interesting instance of Dahl applying a court style to a sitter of a family of more moderate prominence.

Tabitha Barber
July 2006

Notes

1 F. Blomefield, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, 1805, vol.2, p.539; John, Lord Kimberley, The Wodehouses of Kimberley, 1887, p.50.
2 Christie’s, 28 February 1947, lots 1–34; Sotheby’s, 13 November 1991, lots 29–35 and 132–141.
3 W. Metcalfe (ed.), The Visitation of the County of Worcester 1682–3, 1883, pp.85–6; T. Nash, The History and Antiquities of Worcestershire, 1781, vol.1, p.384.
4 W. Nisser, Michael Dahl and the Contemporary Swedish School of Painting, 1927, p.17.
5 Ibid., p.17.

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