Sir Francis Grant

Portrait of a Lady (? Mrs Edmund Peel)

c.1856

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2235 x 1334 mm
frame: 2590 x 1670 x 135 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1991
Reference
T06456

Display caption

Grant was born into an aristocratic Scottish family. He began painting for a living in his mid-twenties, having spent his inheritance. A keen fox-hunter himself, he made his name with sporting paintings and hunt group pictures. His social connections enabled him to move easily into fashionable portraiture, at which he was both successful and prolific. In 1866 he was elected President of the Royal Academy.
Grant's ability to integrate a sitter harmoniously into an open-air setting lies in the tradition of English portraiture from Sir Anthony van Dyck to Sir Thomas Lawrence. This lady is probably the young wife of Edmund Peel of Bryn-y-pys, now in Clwyd. Grant painted her in 1856, only four years before her death.

Gallery label, September 2004

Technique and condition

The plain woven, linen canvas is primed with a smooth, white, oil-based ground, probably the product of a colourman. Once this primed support had been attached to its stretcher, it was given a thin wash coat of reddish-brown oil paint, which would be left visible deliberately in some areas, for example the foliage, and which has become more visible over time in the hair and hat.

Once this reddish brown layer was dry and after making a sketchy outline of the figure in thin brown paint, the artist took thicker mixtures of oil paint and worked up the whole image wet-into-wet, moving from area to area and painting in vigorous, expressive strokes with stiff brushes about one inch wide. For the face he used smaller, soft brushes but otherwise the technique is the same as in the other opaque areas: direct application of a range of tints, all premixed on the palette and worked into one another on the canvas. All the shadows are opaque, there is no glazing to deepen them, and the palette is predominantly cool.

Wrinkling in the opaque areas and shrinkage of some of the darks indicate that he mixed in extra oil and varnish respectively to increase the overall translucency and richness of tone. Areas which have particularly suffered this type of change are the right background, her hair and the dark lines of foliage on the left. The general form of the figure is as originally conceived by the artist, who left reserve areas for the hat and shawl ends while painting the white dress. Here and there, however, he made minor alterations, usually done wet-into-wet: her left index finger once extended further over the hat-brim; her right sleeve seems to have been fuller originally, and a tree between the two on the left was painted out while still wet. Dark strokes beneath the flesh paint on her shoulders suggest some changes. The raised vertical streaks in the right foreground appear to be in the ground layer.

In general the painting is in excellent condition. It has a modern, synthetic-resin varnish and a recent wax-resin lining. The stretcher is new.

Rica Jones
1996

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